Kurt Helin

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 09: James Harden #13 and Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets walk off the court during a first half timeout against the Washington Redskins at Verizon Center on December 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Report: Rockets considering trades, but hard cap meant patience choice


The Houston Rockets are hard capped this season. GM Daryl Morey thought he had put together a contender — they had reached the Western Conference Finals last season and added Ty Lawson — so taking the hard cap on (by using part of their mid-level exception to bring them close to the apron) to bring in rookie second rounder Montrezl Harrell seemed a wise move.

Except things did not go smoothly for the Rockets to start the season, and suddenly having that hard cap became a problem. Calvin Watson explained it well at ESPN.

Make no mistake, the desire to trade players remains despite the improved record. The Rockets talked to teams about trades regarding forward Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer. Ty Lawson’s reps sought more playing time elsewhere and there was a report Dwight Howard wanted out, something he disputed.

When the Rockets signed second-round pick Montrezl Harrell to a three-year, $3.1 million deal during the summer, it used a portion of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, pushing them to the apron level of a hard salary cap of $88.7 million. Morey is limited in what he can do because he can’t take on a huge salary for this season with the hard cap.

The Rockets have won five in a row, they are playing better on defense, and things flow better with Patrick Beverley in the starting lineup and Ty Lawson off the bench. Still, the Rockets are not the title contenders they expected to be and Morey would love to make moves at the deadline to strengthen this team.

He just tied his own hands and can’t make any big ones.

Wyclef Jean sings plea for you to vote Zaza Pachulia into All-Star game

Dallas Mavericks center Zaza Pachulia (27) and guard Raymond Felton (2) talk during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
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When you’re looking for reasons the Dallas Mavericks are a surprise fifth in the Western Conference this season, you need to mention Zaza Pachulia.

The center they picked up as a Plan B (or maybe “C”) after DeAndre Jordan changed his mind is having his best season ever, with a true shooting percentage of 57 and a PER of 18.9. Impressive numbers, although not quite All-Star status.

Pachulia is eighth in the voting for the Western Conference front court, ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, and within 4,000 votes of Tim Duncan. The people of Georgia (the country, not the state) are speaking.

Now Pachulia will get a boost stateside thanks to rapper Wyclef Jean.

If Justin Bieber can’t bump Chris Paul into being a starter, it’s hard to imagine Jean helping Pachulia make up the 200,000 votes it would take to pass Draymond Green for the final starting spot in the West.

But it’s cool anyway.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

When will Blake Griffin return? Depends if you ask him or Doc Rivers.

Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo
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The last time we saw Blake Griffin on a basketball court, it was Christmas Day against the Lakers. Griffin suffered a partially torn left quad. He’s missed nine games — and the Clippers have won all nine (they have a 10-game winning streak). The Clippers without Griffin run more of a spread pick-and-roll, Cole Aldrich has stepped up with some strong play, and everyone seems happy.

Still, the Clippers are better when Griffin is on the court, so when will he return?

Depends on who you ask.

This was Griffin himself after practice Friday, via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

Next Thursday the Clippers head out on that five-game road trip, which includes stops to face the Knicks, Raptors, Pacers, and Hawks. The Clippers could use Griffin in that stretch. But two days ago, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t expect Griffin that soon. From the Los Angeles Daily News:

“He’s running, which is nice and he looked great yesterday just moving around the gym,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before tipoff against the Heat. “But I think this thing is going to take time, if you want me to be honest. And I don’t know what that actually means.

“But I don’t think we should look for him any time soon.”

Players often tend to think they will return to the court more quickly than trainers or coaches will let them. That said, I’m not sure that’s the case here, Griffin has missed a chunk of time, but it sounds as if his recovery is coming along well. Barring any setbacks, I expect we will see him return to the court late next week or the week after — just like Griffin himself predicted.

Barack Obama would take Michael Jordan over Kobe, LeBron


Who wouldn’t?

Just a couple of days after his final State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama did a little Twitter Q&A. Understandably, most of the questions he engaged on were about gun violence, the Affordable Care Act, and other things that are important. But then came the hoops question: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James.

Obama is from Chicago, what did you expect him to say?

And who wouldn’t choose Jordan.

In a recent PBT Podcast author Roland Lazenby and I discussed and compared Kobe and Jordan (he has written books on both men and has another Kobe book coming out in August). Kobe has wrung everything out of his body that he could get, even Phil Jackson said he had a better work ethic than Jordan. But Jordan had more gifts and turned those into an unmatched career.

LeBron has more gifts than either of them physically, and his story is still being written (a couple of Cleveland titles tilts the narrative), but he has not had the same success on the biggest of stages as those two guys. Fair or not.

Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Tony Parker, Spurs’ bench spark win over Cavs

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, prepares to drive around San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
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We had the first in a string of games coming up between the NBA’s powerhouses — Cleveland at San Antonio. But if your significant other forced you to watch American Idol, I feel for you. We can help. Here is what you need to know from a Thursday night around the Association.

1) Cavaliers get off to fast start, but relentless San Antonio wears down Cleveland to get win, remain perfect at home. It’s hard not to try to draw conclusions from this game about what would happen if this were the NBA Finals matchup (a real possibility), even though six months from now these both will be different teams. This was more of a benchmark for where they are now — and at the start Cleveland looked great. Their combination of athleticism and free-flowing offense had them race out to a 12-2 lead to start the game. Seconds into the second quarter the Cavaliers led 35-20 after an Iman Shumpert jumper. That was as good as it got for them, the Spurs walked the Cavaliers down, passed them in the fourth and got the win. Here are the three things I would take away from this game and keep in mind for future meetings.

The Cavaliers got away from the ball movement they had in the first quarter (an improved Spurs’ defense had something to do with that). Cleveland had six assists on 13 baskets in the first quarter, and then nine assists on the 25 buckets they had the rest of the game. Combine the lack of ball movement with solid Spurs positioning on defense (and a guy like Kawhi Leonard, who can make LeBron James work for his 22 points), and you got a Cavaliers team that settled for jumpers rather than attack the rim (and draw fouls or get easier shots).

Tony Parker outdueled Kyrie Irving. I’m not sure if that’s sustainable — Irving is getting better each game still in his return from knee surgery — but if Parker can keep things close that’s good news for the Spurs. Remember that the Cavs were the last team to beat the Spurs in San Antonio and Irving went off for 57 in that game — he can swing these games by himself. Thursday night Parker played good defense on him (Irving had 16 points on 17 shots) plus had a team-high 24 points himself. This season San Antonio is asking Parker to do less than he did in the motion offense championship days just a couple of seasons back, and he is responding by looking less tired and coming through with big games when they need him.

David West sparked a Spurs bench that won the game. This is what you hope for from veterans such as West — the Spurs needed a spark off the bench and West had 13 points in 18 minutes. West hit some key fourth quarter buckets, and he led a bench that got the Spurs back in the game and helped them take the lead in the fourth. This is the one takeaway that might worry the Cavaliers looking ahead to a series — the Spurs have had arguably the best bench in the NBA this season and the Cavaliers will have to keep that gap close to win four of seven games. Cleveland couldn’t do that Thursday night.

2) Jimmy Butler drops career-high 53 to lead the Bulls past the Sixers in overtime. If you want to be negative — as some Bulls fans are prone to be — and say it’s concerning that Chicago needed an epic performance and OT to beat the lowly Sixers, go ahead. I would counter with two things. First, it’s a long season, the Sixers have played better of late, teams have flat nights, and you take the wins where you can get them. Second, just enjoy what Jimmy Butler did — the man was incredible. He played the game’s final 37 minutes straight because Fred Hoiberg couldn’t afford to take him out.

3) Mario Chalmers hit a ridiculous game winner to lift Memphis over Detroit. This end of game sequence may not be the most aesthetically beautiful thing you will ever see, but Mario Chalmers has never feared the moment (going back to Kansas), and he drained another big shot in a career full of them.

4) Stephen Curry threw down just his second dunk of the season. This, and a fond farewell to Kobe Bryant from the Oracle Arena crowd, were the only two things worth noting from the Warriors win over the Lakers Thursday night.

5) Rudy Gay game winner lifts Kings past Jazz. They have playoff dreams in Sacramento this season, but if the Kings are going to make the dance for the first time in nine years they need to beat the team they are trying to catch — like eight seed Utah. Gay made that happen with a good-look elbow jumper for the game winner. (The Kings are now just one game back of the Jazz for the final playoff slot in the West.)