James Harden intent on winning title with Rockets in wake of new deal

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden never wants to leave Houston and is intent on bringing another NBA title to the city the Californian now considers home.

And the Rockets are doing everything possible to make sure the Beard gets exactly what he wants.

The clearest evidence of that came a week ago when they signed him to the biggest contract in league history: a four-year, “supermax” extension that guarantees $228 million over the next six seasons.

“I know where I want to retire ultimately and I know where I want to win a championship,” Harden said Saturday. “Everything is going to happen in Houston and that’s the reason I’m here forever.”

Since orchestrating the trade that brought Harden to Houston from Oklahoma City in 2012, general manager Daryl Morey has known he had a cornerstone player to build a team around. To him, shelling out that much money to keep the 27-year-old off the free agent market until the 2022-23 season was a no-brainer.

“Some of our decisions are hard. This one’s easy,” Morey said. “We’d do more if we could. This was the most they allow us to do.”

The contract extension followed the Rockets’ trade for nine-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul late last month, giving Harden another superstar to help chase Houston’s first title since the Rockets won two in a row in 1994-95.

There have been questions about how the two will fit together in Houston after Harden had the finest season of his career while playing point guard in first-year coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. But Harden isn’t worried about that.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything like this before,” he said. “Two guys that can create and facilitate and just do things with the ball that nobody’s done from the one position and the shooting guard position. So it’s going to be fun. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Harden finished second in MVP voting last season behind Russell Westbrook after ranking second in the league with 29.1 points per game and first with 11.2 assists. He had 64 double-doubles last year after combining for just 67 in the first seven seasons of his career, and notched 22 triple-doubles after getting just nine total before last season.

“I’ve coached a lot of people and watched a lot of games and the stuff that he did day in and day out was incredible,” D’Antoni said. “Now I’m just so excited that he’s going to be here for a long time.”

Harden’s brilliant season ended with a thud when the Rockets were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in a 39-point loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Harden didn’t attempt a shot until halfway through the second quarter of the blowout and finished with 10 points to tie a season low.

That loss still weighs on Harden, who shouldered the blame for the defeat in the hours after the game.

“For sure it motivates me,” he said. “Of course it wasn’t how we wanted it to end … but that’s what life is about. You get tested and you go through certain things where things don’t happen your way … you have to sit back, look at how you can be better and go out there and just be better at it. And if you fail, do it again.”

Harden is excited about his new deal and humbled to have signed the richest contract in NBA history. However, he insists that all those zeros in his bank account will be hollow if he doesn’t take the Rockets to the next level.

“Money is cool … but it doesn’t really mean anything without holding that championship up,” Harden said. “So that’s what we’re working toward. That’s why I’m in the gym every single day and I won’t stop until I get it.”

 

Sixers new “Spirit of 76” court is fire

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First, the Sixers nailed the Nike “statement” jersey.

Now, they have announced a new “Spirit of 76” promotion, with seven tribute nights this season honoring the history of the franchise and of the Philadelphia area (and there is plenty of history to honor).

The best part — the “Spirit of 76” court with the bell logo.

Here is the promo vid

I just hope the Sixers team can live up to all the hype.

Wizards’ Markieff Morris to have sports hernia surgery, miss start of camp

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When the Washington Wizards open training camp next Tuesday, starting forward Markieff Morris will not be on the court.

That’s because he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, a story broken by Candice Buckner of the Washington Post and since confirmed by Chase Hughes at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

While we don’t have details on the surgery, often recovery time for this is just a few weeks, and Morris could well be ready for the start of the season.

Morris averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last season, and the Wizards offense was 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court last season. With him out, coach Scott Brooks can lean on Jason Smith or Mike Scott for traditional lineups, but don’t be shocked if he tries a little small ball with Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre at the three or four.

Morris also is in the midst of a felony assault trial in Arizona (one where he does not need to attend).

Sixers enter camp with Joel Embiid not cleared for 5-on-5, Jahlil Okafor on trade block

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This is the season the 76ers make the leap from team with potential to playoff team fast on the rise.

Maybe.

That’s the plan in Philly, but there are a lot of questions for this team to answer. While a couple of these issues are answered already — Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are cleared to play and practice with teammates — a couple big ones still hang around. At the top of the list is “how healthy is Joel Embiid?” Coach Brett Brown doesn’t even have that answer yet, reports Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

It’s this simple: The Sixers outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the court last season, he was a dominant force defensively who scored 20.2 points a game. When he was off the court the Sixers were 11.5 points per 100 possessions worse. They need him to play and play consistently if the Sixers have playoff dreams. It’s unclear when Embiid will return, but know that the Sixers will be cautious with his minutes again when he does get cleared (he has played just 31 games in three seasons).

Does that mean more Jahlil Okafor? Maybe not, the Sixers are still willing to trade him.

The Sixers have shopped Okafor for most of a year and found no deal they like. Okafor battled knee issues last season and, after a summer working to get healthy, other teams will want to see him play a little before talking trade. If he comes to camp slimmed down and his knee looks right, it could revive trade talks. Using a back-to-the-basket game, he averaged 11.8 points a night shooting 51 percent last season, he’s efficient, and some teams could use what he does (off the bench).

It’s going to be an interesting season in Philly. Are they playoff bound?

Report: Warriors “perplexed” by Kevin Durant’s offseason fighting old battles

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Kevin Durant made his move to Golden State last summer — it was an emotional, wrenching decision for him — and it went as well as he could have dreamed. He felt at home. He’s got a ring (or will have one on opening night), he was Finals MVP, and he not only strengthened his legacy with a title, but also helped it out by taking a paycut that made it easier for the Warriors to keep their core together this summer.

So why is he living in the past? Why release a shoe line taking shots at his detractorsWhy did he blast his former organization on Twitter? Sure, he apologized, but why slide back down that rabbit hole? For that matter, why take a shot at Stephen Curry’s shoe line?

Chris Mannix at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said some with the Warriors are wondering the same thing.

But make no mistake: Many in Golden State, team officials and players alike, have taken note of Durant’s oddball offseason and are perplexed by it. They see a bright future for Durant in Oakland, league and team sources told The Vertical, and are bewildered as to why he is still addressing his past.

Oklahoma City will always be in Durant’s DNA, but it’s time for him to move on. Slapping around a team that was loyal to him, even in rejection, is a bad look. He’s a Warrior, and the possibilities for this Golden State team are endless. He can win championships, can win awards, can build one of the great dynasties in NBA history. The Thunder are doing their thing. Durant should forget about them, and do his.

This will all blow over. Soon the season will start, Durant and the Warriors will look dominant, and this will all seem like a minor distraction in the deadest part of the offseason. The focus will be on the rings.

But if you want an answer as to why, Durant’s response to a YouTube comment to someone who told him “who cares what other people think, just do you.” (Hat tip For the Win.)

…of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

Durant still can be a little immature, still wants to be a regular guy, and just like a regular guy he wants to be liked. And like a lot of people, he snaps at people when he knows he should just let it go and rise above. Maybe that will come with the lessons of this offseason.