Kurt Helin

De’Aaron Fox’s speed raced him up draft boards, made him confident wherever he lands

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De’Aaron Fox even talks fast.

Speed is what separates the point guard out of Kentucky from a deep crop at the position in this draft. Fox has got impressive playmaking skills, his defense can overwhelm, he has a maturity and confidence about him not seen in most 19-year-olds — there are multiple reasons he has climbed draft boards and is expected to be taken in the top five Thursday night during the NBA Draft.

However, it’s the speed that separates him.

“You can’t really teach speed, you either have it or you don’t,” Fox told NBC Sports. “For me, Coach Cal had me using that as a weapon and that’s just something I learned while I was at Kentucky.”

It’s that speed that intrigues teams. Fox generally has been projected to go to Phoenix or Sacramento (picks four or five), but the ground under this draft is shifting quickly and Fox said he has no idea where he will be taken. He could land a lot of places. He said he’d prefer it to be in an uptempo system, but he believes he can help any team that takes him.

“I think I just bring a level of playmaking that some of the teams in the lottery don’t have,” Fox said. “That’s offensively and defensively. Defensively that’s playing the passing lanes, just getting your hands on balls. And offensively just being able to beat your man and being able to create for yourself and others….

“The NBA game is a lot faster than the college game, but you still have to be able to play in the high gears.”

Where most people remember him using those higher gears was to overwhelm likely No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball of UCLA in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament (frankly, he outplayed Ball both times Kentucky took on UCLA last season). Fox had 39 points on 20 shots that March night, plus got to the line 15 times. However, more impressive was his defense on Ball, holding the bigger guard to 10 points on 10 shots (with eight assists). Again, it was about speed.

“I’m quicker and faster than just about everybody I played against so just being able to get under guards, just try to limit what they can do with their size,” Fox said. “I try to speed them up, play to my tempo.”

Fox has been fast up the draft board — and fast to get endorsements and deals. He inked a shoe deal with Nike. He was in New York Wednesday to shoot a new commercial for Kids Foot Locker — they wanted him even before the draft. Like a lot of scouts, they see a potential star about to bloom.

“I always thought I’d want to see myself in a commercial and things like that, see myself on TV doing things other than just basketball,” Fox said. “This is a blessing to be able to do things like this. I’m just blessed God gave me the talent and I’m just taking it and being able to affect the world.”

If scouts had one question about Fox, it was his jump shot. He shot just 24.6 percent from three last season, and his jump shot was as inconsistent as his release point. His form wasn’t terrible, just a little all over the map.

However, it has looked better in recent workouts, largely because Fox and trainer Chris Gaston put in the time in the gym.

“I put a lot of work on it,” Fox said of his jumper. “I know I’m going to need it at the next level, but also that was something I really just struggled with at the beginning of the year at Kentucky, so I that was one thing didn’t really worry about, I just had to tighten (it up)…

“Really it was just getting up reps, staying focused on every shot, locked in.”

Fox’s maturity showed through when asked what else he’s been working on — he’s been getting in better shape. Something some players don’t figure out until they’ve been in the league a few years.

“Getting my body right,” Fox said. “At the next level, you got to be a lot stronger, quicker, faster… (conditioning) really goes up a tremendous level from college to the NBA, and it’s something that you really need work. You really have to focus on that.”

Fox credits part of him being NBA ready with a year under John Calipari at Kentucky, a school that feels like a one-and-done factory at points.

“Just the way he coaches. He tries to run it like an NBA organization,” Fox said. “You know the track record he’s had, so you don’t go in there like you’re the only high major player he’s ever had, you’re one of many. You just listen to him and he’s able to get you to the next level, he helps us that way. He has us playing like an NBA team, it’s difficult in college to simulate that but he does it the best.”

Thursday night, years of work in the gym for Fox will all culminate with him being drafted — then another whirlwind will start. He will be flown off to the city where he is picked, meet the media, sit down with the coach, and quickly start workouts with the team in advance of Summer League. Fox hasn’t focused too much on where he will land, but he has focused on what he will wear draft night.

“I’ve actually had my suit picked out for a while now,” Fox said. “I haven’t actually picked the shoes yet, though.”

Would John Calipari approve of the look?

“I think he would.”

Report: Rockets extend GM Daryl Morey’s contract four more years

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Note to Dan Gilbert and the Cleveland Cavaliers: This is what you do with a successful GM.

Last season the Houston Rockets made a huge leap forward and it all started with shrewd moves by Daryl Morey: He jettisoned Dwight Howard, brought in Mike D’Antoni and told him to coach the system he is known for, James Harden was moved to point guard, and he went out and got shooters to go around the Beard such as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, who had fantastic seasons. It worked with the Rockets having the third best record in the NBA last season.

Rockets ownership decided to lock GM Morey up as he started to head into the last year of his deal, reports Marc Berman of Fox Sports 26 in Houston (and since confirmed by others).

Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey signed a four-year contact extension according to NBA sources. Morey had one year left on his contract.

He is now tied to the organization through the 2021-2022 season.

Morey is not resting on what worked last year, he reportedly is aggressively looking to make trades at the deadline to clear up cap space so he can chase Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap or Kyle Lowry — another star.

Morey is the poster child for the anti-analytics holdout fans of the NBA. He’s an early adaptor and front and center promoting the ideas, but at this point bashing him is all but yelling “get off my lawn.” For one, every team uses advanced stats/analytics to varying degrees, and the heavy users include San Antonio, Golden State, and Miami — a lot of rings right there. More importantly, what do the numbers tell Morey? Get multiple

More importantly, what do the numbers tell Morey? Get multiple star players, surround them with other good players. How you get there may be different, but the end result is the same. But if it makes you feel good to be a bitter person, go at it in the comments.

 

Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford: Dwight Howard can return to All-Star level

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte coach Steve Clifford is confident he can help newly acquired Hornets center Dwight Howard become a dominant force and an NBA All-Star again.

Clifford is familiar with Howard, having coached him for six seasons as an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles.

“I know what he has to do to play well,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He understands that I know him. I know his game. Being around him in different settings I have a feel for what he likes to do… There is no reason he can’t get back to playing at a really high level.”

General manager Rich Cho said Clifford’s familiarity with Howard is a major reason the Hornets pulled the trigger on a trade that sent guard Marco Belinelli, center Miles Plumlee and the No. 41 overall pick in the NBA draft to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Howard and the No. 31 overall pick. It meant taking on Howard’s contract, which will pay him $47 million over the next two seasons.

Now the question becomes if Howard can bounce back from two tumultuous seasons in Atlanta and Houston, and also fit in in Charlotte.

Howard was an NBA All-Star eight straight seasons from 2007-14. But Howard didn’t play in the fourth quarter two of Atlanta’s first-round playoff games last season, something that irked the 13-year NBA veteran. Atlanta dealt Howard to Charlotte just one year into a three-year, $74 million contract.

While Clifford acknowledges that the 31-year-old Howard isn’t as athletic as he once was, he said the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center will bring defensive toughness and physicality – something the Hornets woefully lacked last season while finishing 36-46.

Howard is the NBA’s leading active leader in shots blocked and rebounds.

He’s also a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and has been selected to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

“For three years when people looked on the schedule and saw we’re playing Charlotte on Wednesday it was like, `Oh man that’s not going to be easy,”‘ Clifford said. “But last year, in the last 25 games, it was easier. And we’re not going to win that way. Dwight can go a long way toward changing that back to the way it was.”

Howard was not present at the news conference Wednesday at the Hornets arena and has not commented on the trade.

However, Howard spoke with team owner Michael Jordan on Tuesday night and indicated that he was “pumped up” about joining the Hornets, Cho said.

Howard wasted little time Tuesday night changing his photo on his Twitter page to the Hornets logo.

Clifford doesn’t buy into the notion that Howard is a locker room cancer who can be a disruption to his teammates. Having coached him for six seasons, Clifford said he thinks Howard will be welcomed in Charlotte and fit in nicely.

“Listen, this is an easy guy to like,” Clifford said. “This isn’t some guy who is hard to deal with. He’s bright, he’s fun-loving and has a great sense of humor and great wit. … I think he will fit in very well.”

Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004, has averaged 17.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2 blocks in 954 career games played. Howard’s 58.5 shooting percentage ranks fourth all-time in NBA history and he is coming off a season in which he made a career-high 63.3 percent of his shots.

Howard has appeared in 95 postseason games, averaging 18.4 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

 

2-year, $192 million renovation begins for Hawks’ home arena

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ATLANTA (AP) A $192.5 million renovation of Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, has begun a day after funding was approved by the Atlanta City Council.

About $110 million for the renovation will be generated from the car rental tax collected at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and other sites. An additional $32.5 million will come from the city’s sale of Turner Field, the former home of MLB’s Braves, to Georgia State University.

The City Council voted Monday to extend the car rental tax.

The Hawks will contribute $50 million. As part of the deal, the team’s lease was extended through the 2047-2048 season.

The renovation includes removing a wall of suites on one side of the arena, which is closed for four months before re-opening for the 2017-18 season. Work is scheduled to be complete before the 2018-19 season.

Report: Rockets to chase Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, other top free agents, will make moves to do so

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Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey — who just got his contract extended — has big and bold plans in Houston. With James Harden running Mike D’Antoni’s offense the Rockets made a leap up to the NBA’s second tier last season (despite a playoff thud). They have solid starters and a good bench, even if they just largely stand pat this summer.

Morey wants to move up to the top tier. The problem is, that will require more elite talent that fits the system, and the Rockets only have about $10 million in cap space. We told you that Patrick Beverley was available (he “only” makes $5.5 million next year), but it is much broader than that reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Daryl Morey loves to go big game hunting in free agency, and those are some of the biggest names on the market. We can debate how well Kyle Lowry or Blake Griffin would fit in the D’Antoni system, but they would be a talent upgrade and could work. The challenge is money, every one of those are max contract guys.

Lou Williams will make $7 million next season, so even moving him and 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, but also stings a little more after the seasons they had. It would take a big series of moves from the Rockets to make this happen.

Utah could be one trade partner, they have salary cap space.

Can Morey pull it off? After the way this off-season has started, I no longer question anything. It may not be likely, but it certainly is possible. And Morey is one guy I wouldn’t bet against.