Luc Mbah a Moute

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

11 Comments

Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Mike D’Antoni thinks “synergy” between James Harden, Chris Paul will be beautiful thing

Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s been one of the most interesting questions of the offseason — how will Chris Paul and James Harden share the ball and control of the Rockets?

In particular, how will they do it in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system that made Harden an MVP candidate and is not the calculated, surgical style that CP3 uses to carve defenses up?

Mike D’Antoni isn’t too worried about it. In an interview with our old friend Matt Moore of CBS Sports, the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year said the greats figure out how to work things out.

Team USA is an interesting example. Mike Krzyzewski wants to play fast (the USA is far more athletic than any team they face, they should take advantage of that) but he gives his players freedom within that outline to do what works. D’Antoni sounds like he wants to give Paul and Harden some space to figure out how to play together, what works for them. (The advantage is Team USA plays inferior opponents, often vastly inferior, and that will not be the same case for the Rockets in the NBA.)

Do the same rules apply if/when Carmelo Anthony gets traded to Houston? Probably.

D’Antoni is rightfully high on the Rockets’ offensive potential.

The real question is on the other end of the court. The Rockets were a middle of the pack defensive team last season (18th in points allowed per possession), but they have added quality defenders in Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute. Can the Rockets become a top-10 defensive team, one with players who can match up with Golden State? Because we know the Warriors are going to finish the season top three on both ends of the court.

It’s going to be a fascinating season in Houston.

Houston will wait to see how next season plays out before talking new Chris Paul deal

3 Comments

Houston has set itself up to be the most dangerous challenger to Golden State this season. With James Harden and now Chris Paul, they have a backcourt that can rival the Warriors. Houston has a system, it has shooting, and this offseason GM Daryl Morey made smart acquisitions getting wing defenders — such as Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker — who can help against the Warriors.

Yet there are questions. Can Paul and Harden play together and share the rock? Can the other players adapt to playing around them? Can key players such as Clint Capela take a step forward? Will this team defend well enough?

With all that, the Rockets are going to wait until next summer to talk to CP3 about a new contract and being patient, Morey told Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

“We’ve had high-level discussions [with Paul about his future],” Morey told The Crossover, noting that Harden’s recent $228 million extension provides a “signaling aspect” to other stars that Houston caters to its marquee players. “[Paul] hopes to continue with Houston. He likes the team, the organization and the city. In terms of him actually signing long-term, that’s something that won’t be decided until next year.”

With Ryan Anderson at three-years, $60 million left on his deal and Eric Gordon at three-years, $39.5 million, signing Paul to a max — and he will demand a max contract — would send the Rockets into the tax. The smart move is to wait and see how this season plays out, then make a call.

This is a situation where, because the team is a contender, most owners will be okay with paying the larger bill to keep the team together. However, we don’t know who the new ownership group in Houston will be, or what they will prioritize and authorize. Most likely though Morey will have permission to spend.

And if this works he will spend big on Paul (then look for savings elsewhere). Top 10 NBA talent is hard to come by.

Report: Rockets add more defense, sign Luc Mbah a Moute to one-year deal

11 Comments

If the goal is to knock off the Warriors, you can never have enough wing defenders.

The Houston Rockets have set themselves up as the main challenger to the dominance of Golden State, and they just added some wing defense and some solid three-point shooting by signing Luc Mbah a Moute to a one-year deal, something first reported by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Free-agent combo forward Luc Mbah a Moute has agreed to sign with the Houston Rockets, league sources tell ESPN.

It is believed to be a one-year, veteran minimum arrangement.

Mbah a Moute, 30, played the last two seasons with the LA Clippers as the team’s starting small forward. He declined a $2.3 million player option for the 2017-18 season to hit free-agency this summer. He shot a career high of 39 percent from the beyond the arc last season.

It is a veteran minimum contract, that’s all the Rockets have to give out.

The Rockets now will start Trevor Ariza on the wing next to James Harden and Chris Paul, but they can bring Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, and Mbah a Moute off the bench. That’s good depth at the position most needed to try and match up with the Warriors. Mbah a Moute has his limitations on offense — he shot well from three last season but can’t create or do much of anything but if he stays in his lane things work out well.

This is a good signing by the Rockets.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis, six All-Stars to play in NBA Africa Game

Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks will play for Team World in the NBA Africa Game.

Dirk Nowitzki and Kemba Walker had already been chosen as captains for Team World. The squad includes Portland’s CJ McCollum, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Denver’s Wilson Chandler, New York’s Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa, who most recently played with Phoenix.

The rosters were announced Thursday for the second game featuring players born in Africa and second-generation African players against a team from the rest of the world. It will be played Aug. 5 in Johannesburg.

Team Africa, captained by Luol Deng and Thabo Sefolosha, will be rounded out by Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder, Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo, Houston’s Clint Capela, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, Luc Mbah a Moute, most recently with the Clippers, Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay and Dallas’ Salah Mejri. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, from Cameroon, is on the roster but won’t play because he is recovering from injury.

The game will be played in support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.