Kevin McHale reaches deal to coach Rockets

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UPDATE 3:24 pm: Well, that didn’t take long. The two sides have come to an agreement in principle and Kevin McHale is your new coach of the Houston Rockets.

This is reportedly a four year deal with a team option for the last year. This is a Rockets roster in flux, it will be interesting to see what it looks like in four years and how (or if) McHale can mold that lineup.

12:55 pm: Kevin McHale badly wanted another chance to prove himself as an NBA head coach. Looks like he is going to get it.

The Rockets have offered their head coaching job to Kevin McHale, according to multiple sources, including the Houston Chronicle (Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo had it first). They still have to negotiate terms but both sides want this so expect it to get done.

McHale beat out Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey and Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank — both former NBA head coaches — for the job.

McHale has an unimpressive 39-55 record in two half-seasons with the Wolves, but that is without context. In both cases he stepped in midseason for a fired coach (Flip Saunders and Randy Whitman) and in both cases the team played better under him than it did his predecessor.

McHale is a legendary Celtics forward with a nice collection of rings. He should be great at molding a young, talented big man — too bad the Rockets don’t have one of those.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey was looking for a guy for the long term, to rebuild with as the coach. This older generation player is an interesting choice.

De’Aaron Fox should be running away with Most Improved Player

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CHARLOTTE – When De'Aaron Fox was about 6 years old, he watched “Freddy vs. Jason.” The horror movie stuck with him for years.

“All through elementary school, I wouldn’t leave doors open if it was nighttime,” Fox said. “I would make sure I closed every door.”

Now, Fox is only opening doors – for himself and the Kings.

The second-year point guard is the NBA’s breakout player on the league’s breakout team. His speed and energy have invigorated Sacramento, which could end a 12-season playoff drought.

But to truly appreciate Fox, you must understand his rookie season.

“It wasn’t good,” Fox said.

He received no Rookie of the Year votes. He didn’t make an All-Rookie team. He made the Rising Stars game only as an injury replacement.

The Kings went 27-55 and played even worse with Fox on the court. He played below replacement level. His poor shooting and distributing in such a big role proved destructive toward winning.

Now, Fox is arguably the best player in his draft class, in the running with Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.* Fox received deserved All-Star consideration this year. Sacramento is 30-27 and at its best with Fox on the floor.

*Last season’s Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons, was drafted the prior year.

Fox is lightning quick with the ball and a pest defensively. With his shot now falling, he looks to be in complete control.

He leads the Kings’ up-tempo attack while keeping them organized. With Fox on the court, Sacramento plays like the NBA’s fastest, best-fastbreak team all while maintaining the equivalent of a bottom-five turnover rate.

Fox’s improvement is one of the biggest – not just in this season, but in NBA history.

His box-plus-minus leap from -4.4 to +0.9 is telling.

Here are the biggest increases in box plus-minus (center) from a previous career high (left) to the listed season (right) since the NBA began tracking turnovers in 1973-74 (minimum: 1,000 minutes each season):

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Why isn’t Fox the overwhelming favorite for Most Improved Player? I suspect because there’s a belief second-year players are expected to improve.

I’m just not sure why that matters to voters.

Nobody punishes James Harden in the MVP race because he was an established star expected to be good. Nobody punishes Luka Doncic in the Rookie of the Year race because he was a polished young player expected to be good. Nobody punishes Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year race because he was an all-time great coach expected to be good.

“Even if it’s expected, if you improve, it doesn’t matter what the expectation is,” Fox said. “You expect Steph Curry to win MVP, right?

“I don’t think it should matter.”

Fox shouldn’t clinch Most Improved Player just yet. If he stumbles down the stretch, others could catch up.

It can also be tricky to compare Fox to players who didn’t play as much in previous seasons. Fox demonstrated his dismal production over a large, reliable sample last season. How does that compare to players like Wizards center Thomas Bryant, Nuggets guard Malik Beasley and Bulls guard Ryan Arcidiacono? Their lack of prior playing time indicates less prior ability, but perhaps they were erroneously looked over and haven’t improved as much.

Fox is a safe choice for Most Improved Player. We know he was bad last season. We know he’s good this season.

But the Kings didn’t know Fox would develop like this. They took a chance entrusting him with such a large role as a rookie, letting him work through his mistakes.

The payoff has come unusually quick. This level of responsibility is still a lot for a second-year point guard – especially one on a good team.

Fox (24.6 usage percentage, 32.6 assist percentage) is one of just 14 current players who, in his second year, started most of his team’s games at point guard while posting usage and assist percentages above 23. Here are all 14, sorted by team’s winning percentage that season (players who changed teams in-season are listed by their teams’ combined record while they were on each roster):

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Players marked in purple also met the 23%-23% usage-assist thresholds while starting as rookies. All three heavily burdened second-season point guards to lead their teams to winning records – Damian Lillard (2014 Trail Blazers), Russell Westbrook (2010 Thunder) and Fox – had big roles as rookies. It clearly prepared them.

Obviously, that prerequisite doesn’t guarantee second-year success.

But it’s a good bet with someone as talented and driven as Fox.

“People might be surprised by the jump I’ve made, but I’m playing the way I think I should play,” Fox said. “And I think I should be playing even better.”

Jeff Van Gundy: NBA should eliminate All-Star game

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MIAMI (AP) — Jeff Van Gundy has an idea on how to fix the NBA All-Star Game.

His plan: Eliminate it.

Van Gundy, the former NBA coach and now longtime television commentator for ABC and ESPN, said what he’s seeing now from the game is embarrassing and “a bastardization of the game that is beautiful to watch.” The teams picked by captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined to attempt a record 167 3-pointers in Sunday night’s game – and 96 of the 134 field goals in the game came off either 3s or dunks.

“You can be a Division III player like myself and be All-Star MVP,” Van Gundy said. “All you have to do is drive in and shoot a layup.”

Van Gundy coached in the 2000 All-Star game, his Eastern Conference team falling to Phil Jackson and the Western Conference 137-126. There was no shortage of alley-oops tried in that game, though Tim Duncan, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal spent plenty of time defending the rim against those lobs as well.

“I would name All-Stars, I would have All-Star weekend, they have all these things, introduce them … the players are great, they should be applauded,” Van Gundy said this week, while preparing to coach USA Basketball’s team picked for the final two games of qualifying for this summer’s FIBA World Cup in China. “But to take this game and shoot 160 3s, it’s an embarrassment. It’s an embarrassment.”

Van Gundy said he doesn’t need to see a game with Game 7, playoff-level intensity.

He just wants to see some effort.

“The equivalent would be like Major League Baseball, a guy hits the ball, you throw it to him at 70 mph because you’re not trying,” Van Gundy said. “And then you hit it and no one chases it and you just let a guy circle and score and you have unlimited runs. You’ve got to try.”

Players, including James and National Basketball Players Association President Chris Paul, along with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver all said after the 192-182 game two years ago that the All-Star game had to be more competitive.

“Let’s just say it: They don’t want to play,” Van Gundy said. “Adam said, `It’s got to be fixed.’ There’s nothing fixed.”

Last year went down to the wire, a 148-145 game that was well received. This year’s 178-164 game was won by James’ Team LeBron, which trailed by 20 points in the second half before rallying – largely behind the 3-pointer. James’ team took 65 shots in the second half, and 49 of those were 3-point tries.

And players this year didn’t seem to mind the way the game unfolded.

“It’s just about having fun,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said Sunday night. “At the end of the day, it’s for the fans. It’s just to have fun.”

Pelicans to play Anthony Davis against Pacers tomorrow

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The Pelicans clearly don’t want to play Anthony Davis anymore. Some members of the organization reportedly even thought the team would no longer do it.

But Davis said he wants to play, and the NBA reportedly threatened to fine New Orleans if he didn’t play.

So, the player and league are winning out.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

After playing at the Pacers on Friday and hosting the Lakers on Saturday, New Orleans has two straight nationally televised games – vs. the 76ers on Monday and at the Lakers on Wednesday. Once those nationally televised games are behind them, that might be the time for the Pelicans to revisit the issue.

This remains a complex situation. Davis is an excellent player, and it’d be a black mark for the league if he’s a healthy scratch for the rest of the season. But New Orleans should also have a right to protect its asset – especially because Davis decided he no longer wanted to be there. If he suffers serious injury that lowers his trade value, it’d be a catastrophe.

We might not see another showdown like this with a player of Davis’ caliber and a trade-request complication. But until the NBA addresses tanking, we’ll continue to see different versions of this problem.

Tanking tension central to Anthony Davis drama

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NBA teams collectively play 2,460 games each season.

Too few of those games matter.

A few weeks ago, Anthony Davis decided it was no longer worth trying to accomplish his goals with the Pelicans. His trade request derailed New Orleans’ season, and there has been only more difficulty since the team kept him past the trade deadline. Davis has faced immense criticism for making his trade request in-season rather than waiting until the summer.

But teams frequently make a similar determination – that it’s no longer worth trying to accomplish their season goals – well before the season ends.

The most common form of tanking is a team entering the season with playoff aspirations, losing more than hoped then pivoting into more-intended losing down the stretch. Those teams reduce playing time for better veterans and turn toward younger players less-equipped to win presently. Future seasons become the priority well before the current season ends.

The Davis situation is just a version of that.

It might be a long time until a player as good as Davis requests a trade, let alone during a season. But unless the NBA addresses its draft system, there will continue to be weeks of miserable games in the second half of seasons.

The league can try to force teams to play good players. The league can change lottery odds. The league can even pressure teams to oust executives who push tanking to the extreme.

But problems will remain as long as draft positioning is tied to inverse standings. The incentive to lose might be reduced, but it’s still way stronger than the incentive to win extra games late in a losing season.

What do the Suns, Knicks, Cavaliers, Bulls and Hawks have to play for the rest of the season? Winning a few extra games won’t change perception of those teams or draw a significant number of fans. But extra wins would reduce those teams’ odds of drafting a franchise-changer.

The Pelicans face a similar situation. They want to escape the season with Davis healthy and his trade value fully intact. They want a higher draft pick. They care less about winning down the stretch.

The script is flipped because Davis put them into this position. If he hadn’t requested a trade, New Orleans would likely be making a longshot playoff pursuit.

But the result is the same – many remaining games the team doesn’t care about winning or even actively prefers to lose.

There have been numerous suggestions, some even two extreme for me.

The Wheel has been the most popular of those. Celtics assistant general manager Mike Zarren’s proposal gives each team a pick in each segment of the draft in a rotating basis over a multi-year period. The draft order is completely decoupled from record. Each team is on identical footing for the draft.

But I think losing teams should get a leg up in the draft. The NBA is trying to engage all its fanbases. Winning comes with the joy of winning. Losing comes with hope. If losing teams didn’t have the upside of a higher draft pick, their fans would completely lose interest.

A shorter schedule would compact the standings and delay losing teams’ decisions to punt the season. But that’s a non-starter. Nobody is surrendering revenue by eliminating games. Besides, a longer season benefits fans, especially those who are the fringe of being able to afford tickets. A higher supply of games drives down ticket prices.

The NBA is threatening to fine teams for sitting healthy players. But that policy is far too arbitrary for me. Davis obviously draws league scrutiny. But what about Enes Kanter with the Knicks? What about Eric Bledsoe with the Suns in 2017? I prefer clear lines then allowing teams to operate within them.

My general suggestion: Give teams one lottery combination for each loss until they’re eliminated from the playoff race then, thereafter, one lottery combination for each win. Only non-playoff teams get put in the lottery.

There are plenty of ways to tweak it. Maybe teams should get more lottery combinations for the early losses or late wins. Maybe something needs to be done about conference disparity changing when teams are eliminated. How many teams to draw in the lottery and how many to slot and in what order must be determined.

But the general outcome would be awarding higher draft picks to bad teams – especially those that compete to the end of the season.

The NBA would be healthier if teams cared about winning more games.

Winning their remaining games this season is no longer the Pelicans’ priority. They want to protect their most valuable trade asset and improve draft position. Davis’ trade request obviously makes this a unique situation.

But plenty of teams annually sit their top players late in losing seasons without those players first requesting a trade. The problem runs much wider than Davis and New Orleans.