Dan Feldman

C.J. McCollum: ‘I should’ve known better, with my history of violence on the court, that I would get suspended’

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C.J. McCollum was suspended for the Trail Blazers’ season opener against the Suns on Wednesday for leaving the bench during a preseason fight between Caleb Swanigan and Alex Len.

McCollum, via NBC Sports Northwest:

I should’ve known better, with my history of violence on the court, that I would get suspended.

I’m getting a harsher punishment than the people actually involved in the events. And I’m losing money. And I’m not playing. Would that bother you?

They could have fined me more money and allowed me to play in the regular-season game. It’s the intent, and it’s usually up to them. It’s to their discretion. So, they had a choice. They didn’t have to suspend me.

The NBA has a strict leave-the-bench-during-a-fight, get-suspended rule. McCollum – nobody’s idea of an enforcer, as he sarcastically alluded to – was probably just trying to break up the fight. But in the heat of the moment, it’s tough to discern the intent of a player charging in. He can easily escalate the quarrel. So, the league has a blanket rule and makes no exceptions – a policy that has had far more positive than negative effect.

This is the downside, a player getting suspended for trying play peacemaker. But everyone knows the rule at this point, and McCollum is paying the appropriate price for breaking it.

Report: Jazz almost certainly won’t extend Rodney Hood

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The Jazz’s contract-extension talks with Rodney Hood… apparently went nowhere.

Today is the deadline for rookie-scale extensions, and it seems Hood’s fate is sealed.

Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune:

Rodney Hood and the Utah Jazz will not come to an agreement on a contract extension, barring a last minute change, sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune

The Jazz sounded like they wanted to see another season from Hood before giving him a new deal. They retain team control, as he’ll become a restricted free agent next summer.

Hood stagnated last last year during an injury-plagued season. Staying healthy would certainly increase Utah’s confidence in him. I understand the patient approach.

With Gordon Hayward and George Hill gone, Hood is in line for a bigger role. He’s a good 3-point shooter and solid secondary ball-handler. At 6-foot-8, he’s also provide solid wing defense.

Hood has already proven to be a starter on a good team. If he takes the next step – he’s my Most Improved Player pick – the Jazz might regret not locking him up now. But if he has a breakout year and they have to pay him big next summer, that’d probably be fine with them, too.

Sleeper teams for each conference in 2017-18 NBA season

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Eastern Conference

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets finished a disappointing 36-46 last season, but they were never as far off as it appeared. Despite that dismal record, they still outscored opponents, and point difference tends to better predict future success than record.

Charlotte’s big problem last year was center depth. The team went 3-17 without Cody Zeller.

The Hornets corrected – maybe overcorrected – that by trading for Dwight Howard. Howard will start over Zeller for now, and there’s certainly value in having both players provide depth. But Zeller has proven to be the effective fit in the starting lineup. If Howard’s ego allows a move to the bench, Charlotte is definitely better off with that option in its back pocket. If not, this could get tricky for Steve Clifford.

I’m not sure whether Nicolas Batum‘s injury makes the Hornets more or less of a sleeper. They’re obviously worse without him, but a couple-month absence isn’t nearly enough to write them off. The setback might help them fly further under the radar.

Batum’s injury will put more pressure on Michael Carter-Williams, Julyan Stone and Malik Monk to cobble together effective point-guard minutes offensively and defensively when Kemba Walker sits. That was another, smaller, sore spot last year.

Still, Charlotte is well-coached with a fairly cohesive rotation full of players who’ve developed chemistry together. The Hornets are a highly likely a playoff team, not the borderline outfit many have treated them as. After all, they play in the East.

Western Conference

Utah Jazz

The Jazz will feel the loss of their second-best player.

That’s right. Second.

Rudy Gobert was Utah’s best player even before Gordon Hayward left for the Celtics. Gobert is appropriately touted defensively, the best traditional rim protector in the game right now. But he’s quietly an offensive force – a screener, rebounder and finisher.

The Jazz will miss Hayward, to be sure. But much of that is long-term. The 27-year-old will remain in his prime for multiple years and would’ve pushed Utah’s ceiling much higher.

This season, the Jazz rebounded with enough veterans – Ricky Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko and Ekpe Udoh – to fortify a deep rotation. The newcomers and returning players like Joe Ingles and Joe Johnson just know how to contribute to winning.

Regression to the mean would make Utah healthier than last season. Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors can take steps forward, though Favors is a tough fit with Gobert. First-round Donovan Mitchell looks like a steal.

For too many, last year was the baseline, and Hayward is simply being subtracted. Make no mistake, his offensive creativity will be missed. But this team should take steps forward in other facets and remain elite defensively behind Gobert.

The middle of the Western Conference is tough, and the Jazz are by no means a playoff lock. But they have the talent and savvy to at least hold their own in that very competitive environment – even without Hayward.

New Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta says he’ll pay luxury tax to reach Finals, not otherwise

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Before selling the Rockets, Leslie Alexander set up the team to spend big. He signed off on a super-max extension for James Harden and a trade for Chris Paul, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Houston already has nearly $76 million committed in 2018-19 and more than $85 million in 2019-20 committed to just five players (Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene). That doesn’t even account for three starters headed toward free agency next summer (Paul, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela, who’s eligible for an extension through Monday). Re-signing that trio would vault the Rockets well into the luxury tax.

New Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, in a Q&A with Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

ESPN: On that note, this looks like a team that can be a legitimate contender for several years, but the price will rise significantly next summer if the core is kept together. What’s your tolerance level for paying the luxury tax?

Fertitta: This is what was told to me by my experts that work here: If it’s going to take you to the Finals, then you should pay the luxury tax. And I totally agree. If you have to lose money to get to the Finals or win a championship, I think you do what you have to do because it’s going to come back to you.

Remember, I don’t look at things year to year. I don’t operate any of my businesses year to year. I look at everything long-term, so if it costs me money to win a few championships, I’m fine with that. But you don’t want to be in the luxury tax and not be getting to the Finals, so if you don’t have a team that can get to the Finals, you shouldn’t be paying the luxury tax.

The luxury tax is applied to team salary on the final day of the regular season, and the last opportunity to significantly affect payroll is the trade deadline. Obviously, the Finals matchup isn’t determined until months later. So, Fertitta must project Houston’s fate when determining his willingness to spend.

The Rockets aren’t in line to pay the luxury tax this season, but how they fare will affect Fertitta’s perception this summer. Will Houston reach the Finals anytime soon? The Warriors exist.

Maybe the walls are closing in on the Rockets’ window even more quickly than anticipated.

Rumor: Knicks players still skeptical of Jeff Hornacek after he let Phil Jackson demand triangle

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Former Knicks president Phil Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek – who had no experience coaching the triangle offense – and forced the scheme on Hornacek at different points to varying degrees.

Players grumbled about Hornacek, as they tend to do on losing teams. Hornacek kept touting the triangle, appeasing his boss.

Now, Jackson is out, and Hornacek remains. The coach is seemingly free to implement the up-tempo system he used to better effect with the Suns.

But Hornacek isn’t exactly working from a blank slate, as Ian Begley of ESPN explained on The Woj Pod.

Adrian Wojnarowski:

Was Hornacek compromised in the locker room last year because players thought he was just a puppet of Phil? He was running an offense that they knew he didn’t want to run, that Phil was guiding a lot of his decision-making and that they thought maybe, “Our coach isn’t strong enough to stand up for what he believes in because” – that’s part of Phil hired him and puts him in a difficult position because of what he wants him to do and how he wants him to run things. He doesn’t have to run the triangle anymore. He can run what he wants. Does that give him something in the locker room he didn’t have a year ago?

Begley:

I’ll say this, Woj: I can’t speak for every player in there last year, but there were guys who shared those opinions the way you just laid it out. Just, because there was so much vacillation throughout the course of the season about, how much are we going to run the triangle? Is Jeff going to be able to open up, which he did early in the season? But then you look at around the All-Star break. They started running more triangle, and it was clearly Phil’s influence. So, players looked at that, and they saw Jeff as not having enough authority to kind of stand up and say, “Hey, Phil, I’m coaching the team. This is how I want to run the offense. This is what I want to do.” I think if Jeff took that approach, he would have won this locker room over. But he didn’t, and I think that hurt him. So, that doesn’t go away – right? – just because Phil is not here. I think that impression, just from the few guys who shared it with me, I think is still there. I think Jeff has to show himself to be his own man this year, and I think every opportunity is there for him to do that. But he’s certainly under a microscope.

Phil was not going to be able to fire Jeff Hornacek last year. There’s no way that Jim Dolan was going to be paying Derek Fisher and Jeff Hornacek to sit at home while he pays another coach to coach the team.

So, Jeff had the juice, right? He had the latitude to kind of put his foot down. And again, I think if he did that, the players would have rallied around him. I think that he could have got the locker room behind him if he took that stance. He didn’t take that stance, and now, again, he’s left in a difficult position where I think he’s under the microscope from a management perspective.

Hornacek doesn’t seem adept at playing politics, which is hardly a bad thing to say about a person. But sometimes it’s part of the job.

Defying his boss would have been far easier said than done. Maybe Jackson couldn’t have fired Hornacek immediately, but every indication was that Jackson would remain in New York for years. Hornacek appeared terribly positioned to challenge Jackson’s authority.

Unfortunately for Hornacek, he can’t escape these games. He’s now working for Steve Mills, who didn’t hire him. Rumors are already swirling about David Blatt becoming the Knicks’ next coach. If Hornacek wanted avoid drama, he shouldn’t have taken a job anywhere near James Dolan or New York.

The best thing Hornacek can do now is coach well, and the removal of Jackson’s triangle meddling should help. If Hornacek’s offense is effective, players will get behind him.

But have you seen this roster? Tactical changes alone won’t produce immediate positive results, and losing tends to get pinned on the coach – especially when players are already apprehensive of him and management didn’t hire him.

Hornacek is fighting an uphill battle now, and he can partially blame Jackson.