Kurt Helin

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Report: Markieff Morris throws towel at coach Hornacek after benching


Ways not to boost your trade value 101, lesson courtesy the Suns’ Markieff Morris:

Morris has been an unhappy camper in Phoenix since this summer when he felt blindsided by the trade of his twin brother Marcus to clear out cap space for the franchise’s run at LaMarcus Aldridge (which came up short). There has been bubbling tension with coach Jeff Hornacek all season, but that spilled over on Wednesday night.

Morris threw a towel at Hornacek after being pulled, Hornacek threw it back, words were exchanged and Morris spent the rest of the game on the bench. He may stay there longer, reports Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic.

With 9:47 to play and Denver leading 84-75, Morris was taken out of the game and he threw the towel while barking at Hornacek. Hornacek picked up the towel and threw it back Morris’ way with his own upset words for him.

“He’s mad about not playing,” Hornacek said. “I look at the stat sheet. He’s a minus-13 in 12 minutes. So there, I took him out. … He thinks he’s better than that. Show me.”

“That’s between me and ‘H’ (Hornaceck),” said Markieff, who made 2 of 8 shots and had one rebound Wednesday. “It’s not for media. It’s something between me and him that happened. We’ll talk about it.”

The Suns are considering additional punishments for Morris, Hornacek reportedly said. I’d expect he will miss a couple of games.

The Suns are known to be considering trading Morris in the right deal, with both Houston and the Pelicans (for Ryan Anderson) interested, but nothing is imminent. This little tantrum doesn’t help Morris’ trade value. For example, if you’re the Pelicans GM, is the guy with this attitude the one you want to pair with Anthony Davis for years (and Davis would have to play more center)?

This incident — combined with the Suns are 6-14 in their last 20 games — means Hornacek’s seat is getting hotter. The expectations were higher for this team. Of course, a lot of the blame should be directed toward GM Ryan McDonough. He was the guy who went out and got Tyson Chandler this summer thinking he was a game changer, he wanted to pair Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and he signed Morris to an extension. This is the team he made. But GMs don’t fire themselves, they can’t fire the players, so the coach becomes the target.

If the Suns’ downward spiral continues, something is going to get shaken up in the Valley of the Sun.

Vucevic scores 21 to help Magic hold off Rockets 104-101

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff on the sidelines during action against the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Evan Fournier hit a short bank shot with 14.2 seconds left and Tobias Harris made two free throws with 1.1 seconds remaining to help the Orlando Magic hold off the Houston Rockets 104-101 on Wednesday night.

Nik Vucevic’s 21 points led six players in double figures for the Magic, who have won five of six.

Marcus Thornton‘s 3-pointer missed at the final horn, ending Houston’s three-game winning streak.

James Harden scored 10 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Rockets, who rallied from a 14-point deficit to lead by one point on two occasions late in the game.

Former Magic center Dwight Howard finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for Houston.

Harris had 19 points and six rebounds for Orlando, which shot 52.4 percent but turned the ball over six times in the final quarter.

The Rockets were down by eight when Harden and Terrence Jones sparked a 19-3 run late in the first quarter shortly after Howard went to the bench with two fouls.

Aaron Gordon came off the Orlando bench with 14 points in the second quarter, scoring six of the Magic’s eight baskets as they regained a 59-53 lead following a first half in which the Rockets shot 52 percent.

Houston missed its first five shots of the second half and fell behind 65-53, but Trevor Ariza hit two straight jumpers and then Harden scored four consecutive baskets to keep the Rockets in it.

Harris and Payton combined for 12 points to help the Magic finish the quarter on an 18-9 spurt to lead 87-74. Harden hit two straight shots and fed Howard for a dunk during a 13-0 Houston run, and neither team led by more than three points thereafter.


Rockets: Ty Lawson returned from a two-game suspension, playing almost 27 minutes and and scoring 11 points. … Harden, who shoots an NBA-leading 11.1 free throws per game, shot only six, four in the first quarter. … All six of Howard’s field goals came on dunks.

Magic: Orlando is 27-27 against Houston, not including the Rockets’ sweep in the 1995 NBA Finals. … Victor Oladipo shot 0 for 9 with seven rebounds and six assists.


Report: With Marreese Speights struggling, Warriors may seek stretch four

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 2:  Marreese Speights #5 of the Golden State Warriors shoots the ball against the Charlotte Hornets on December 2, 2015 at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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.  Mandatory Copyright Notice:  Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Last season, Marreese Speights had a big season for the Warriors as a stretch five. He was facing up, spacing the floor, and scoring 10.4 points a game on 49.2 percent shooting. He was one of the reasons Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and everyone else has a ring in the Bay Area.

This season has been different. Speights is struggling — 34.7 percent shooting — and combined with the emergence of Festus Ezeli, Speights has seen his minutes and role diminish. Ezeli certainly provides more defense in the paint, which has helped the Warriors. Speights has been asked to play more of a stretch four next to him at times, and that hasn’t worked.

The Warriors miss Speights’ scoring punch off the bench, and if he can’t find a groove the Warriors may look to make a move, reports Monte Poole at CSNBayArea.com.

The Warriors hope Speights finds his shot, because they’re lacking that bench scorer who can light up defenses. Ezeli can score but does not typically wreck a defense. Speights at his best scores in bunches, and his range makes him the harder matchup.

Warriors general manager Bob Myers, like most executives, doesn’t talk trade-possibility specifics. But he surely realizes that when Curry, Thompson and Green are off the floor, scoring comes with considerable toil and strife. The front office is studying the trade market, because if Speights can’t find his form, and soon, the Warriors will seek out another stretch four, somebody Walton or Kerr can call when they need a scoring punch.

The entire league is looking for stretch fours who can help in the way the Warriors want, and there are a limited number out there. Ryan Anderson is reportedly available out of New Orleans, but he’s as good a stretch four as the league has and the price likely is too steep for the Warriors (and Anderson is a rental, in the final year of his contract).

This is just something to keep an eye on. The Warriors may have the best record in the NBA, but they are not going to sit around and wait for everyone to catch up.

Kevin Durant says with him, Westbrook, Thunder should run isolation sets

at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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The success of the Golden State Warriors — and the Spurs the season before that — has even casual fans calling for more system offense and less isolation.

Moving away from isolation sets to something less predictable on offense was part of the reason Scott Brooks was let go and Billy Donovan was brought in as coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s working. Last season 14 percent of the Thunder’s plays were categorized as isolation sets, this season it is down to 8.4 percent, and the Thunder are scoring about three more points per 100 possessions.

But the Thunder lean on isolation sets late in games, and Kevin Durant defended that speaking to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN after OKC knocked off the Clippers this week.

“When you have iso players and guys who can score as many points as Russ and me, you’ve got to live playing some iso ball,” Durant said on Monday night following the Thunder’s 100-99 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. “What do you want? Just pass the ball around and around and not be aggressive? If they’re looking at me and Russ is open, he gets the ball. But if I’ve got it, I’m going to work. Iso. It’s pick your poison.”

Durant is right. He scores 1.14 points per possession on isolation sets, he remains one of the best scorers the game has ever seen and in an isolation set he is nearly impossible to stop. If you throw a few players at him he can swing the ball to Russell Westbrook or find Serge Ibaka for an open midrange jumper, or maybe even find Steven Adams rolling to the rim.

The Thunder have options, but for them isolation is a good one.

Rumor: Bulls willing to move Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson for wing player


You just had to know that when Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski finally got his own podcast, it was going to be must listen and filled with great information. Just two editions in, The Vertical (as it is called) hasn’t disappointed. The first one featured guest Adam Silver, the next Warriors GM Bob Myers.

But also in the latest podcast, which dropped Wednesday, Wojnarowski let fly an interesting rumor about a Bulls team that has struggled to find its identity this season under Fred Hoiberg (hat tip BlogaBull, who has the transcription).

Executives around the league, and people have told me, that the Bulls are very determined to add a talented wing player… and I’ve been told that the Bulls are open to…whether it’s Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson…maybe not both of them, but either of them if there’s a deal out there that they can bring in the best possible wing player available, they’re open to it… They need more shooting.”

It’s not hard to understand why the Bulls want to make a move. This roster as constructed is a poor fit for the up-tempo motion offense Fred Hoiberg wants to run — he put in a lot more of it in training camp and the players came to him and asked him to re-install some of Tom Thibodeau’s slower, more traditional sets. The result is these Bulls lack an offensive identity. Derrick Rose isn’t near the old Derrick Rose (and hasn’t seemed to accept that), they do lack shooting (especially with Mike Dunleavy out), Jimmy Butler is still figuring out how to lead on and off the court, Hoiberg hasn’t settled on front court rotations, and all of that has led to the 27th-ranked offense in the NBA this season. Plus a lot of infighting.

Whether they make a trade now or not, this Bulls roster is going to see a heavy overhaul in the next couple years. That starts this summer when Noah is a free agent and Pau Gasol is expected to opt out.

The problem with the trade idea is that the Bulls are not going to get a lot for Noah — he’s 30 year’s old but has Thibodeau miles on him and isn’t the same guy physically who won Defensive Player of the Year just a couple of seasons back. Plus, he’s an expiring contract so the Bulls would have to find a team willing to give up a talented wing player to rent Noah — it’s hard to imagine that coming together.

Gibson may have some value — he’s a rock solid NBA rotation player. He gives a team rim protection, he’s strong on the glass, and he scores efficiently, plus he’s under contract for another season after this at $8.5 million.

The other problem for the Bulls is right now is there are not a lot of sellers on the market. With so many teams still seeing themselves in playoff contention (the East is legitimately deep, and the bottom of the West is struggling enough to keep almost everyone’s hopes up) teams are not looking to move key pieces right now. Including the kind of quality wings the Bulls are looking for.

But this is something to watch as we crawl toward the February trade deadline.