What the Rockets should do if the lockout ends

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It’s official — after years of half-seasons and broken hopes, the Yao Ming era is officially over in Houston. The Rockets have been essentially playing without Yao for a while now, so it won’t be a huge transition for them, but at least they now know that they won’t b building around Yao going forward. In Yao’s absence, Daryl Morey has built a team of fast, sweet-shooting offensive players that don’t play defense terribly well, and while the team was over .500 last season, it wasn’t able to grab the final playoff spot in the West. Here’s what Morey and Co. should focus on if the lockout ends:

1. Play Defense.

The Rockets were 6th in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency last season. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where they need to make their biggest improvements. Morey has been described as “bringing the Moneyball” philosophy to basketball, and two of his best players, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola, fit that mold — they weren’t big college stars, they’re not great athletes, but they’re both superlative offensive players because of their uniquely polished offensive games. (In fact, I even compared Kevin Martin to former SABRmetric darling Adam Dunn a few years back.)

The problem is that while baseball position players’ defense isn’t nearly as important as their hitting, basketball players have to play both ways in order to be successful. Scola isn’t a great defender by any stretch of the imagination, and Martin is horrifyingly inept defensively, which will make defensive success tough for Houston.

(Of course, Morey was lauded as a “Moneyball” GM for embracing +/- stats and players like Shane Battier — players who don’t have great stats, but impact the game in positive ways by taking smart shots, playing good defense, and having good intangibles. In other words, Morey was compared to Billy Beane for valuing the exact opposite kind of players that Beane did in Lewis’ book. What I’m saying here is that I’m not all that thrilled about the return of “Moneyball” as a buzzword.

Maybe the answer can be former defensive phenom and#2 pick Hasheem Thabeet, who is still young and can block just about anything. If he can find some way to play serviceable NBA basketball and take pressure off Scola defensively, the Rockets would really benefit. Then again, Hasheem Thabeet is not good at basketball, which is an issue the Rockets will have to deal with. In fact, forget I wrote this paragraph unless Thabeet miraculously finds his game. If that happens, disregard these last few sentences.

2. Find a way to run the ball.

The Rockets have some serious weapons in transition. Kyle Lowry is a lightning-quick bowling ball of a point guard, Chase Budinger can run the floor, soar through the air, and stretch the floor, and Martin is deadly trailing the break and shooting those threes. The Rockets also have a lot of other quality athletes on their roster who haven’t quite put it all together in terms of their skills, and a more open game could work well for them.

Basically, the Rockets are a team with a lot of solid role players, some serious defensive issues, a few semi-stars, and no true star. They can be dangerous, but unless they find a way to miraculously turn themselves into a defensive powerhouse or find a two-way superstar, I don’t see them making it out of the first round of the loaded Western Conference.

Juancho Hernangomez missing Timberwolves workouts to film Adam Sandler movie

Timberwolves forward Juancho Hernangomez
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The Timberwolves, like the other seven teams not invited to the NBA’s restart at Disney World, are holding workouts.

Not in Minnesota: Forward Juancho Hernangomez.

Chris Hine of the StarTribune:

A team spokesperson said Hernangomez is filming Adam Sandler’s latest project in Philadelphia.

Netflix is producing the film, called “Hustle.”

And people thought LeBron James – also a producer of “Hustle,” which is about a basketball scout who finds talent oversees – prioritized Hollywood over hoops.

A Spain native, Hernangomez will be a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves can make him restricted.

But how could anyone want a player who doesn’t respect the sanctity of voluntary workouts occurring several months before next season (besides his 3-point shooting, rebounding and defensive versatility)?

Buddy Hield fuels 76ers trade rumor

Kings guard Buddy Hield vs. 76ers
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A rumor emerged about the Kings trading Buddy Hield to the 76ers. It didn’t seem particularly credible.

But then Hield himself liked this Instagram post promoting a potential trade and apparently made a pro-Philadelphia comment on Instagram:

Hield previously laid the groundwork for an offseason trade request. He seemed unhappy at times in Sacramento this season, losing his starting job and even riding the bench when the Kings needed a 3-pointer.

The 76ers could use more shooting – especially if they hire Mike D’Antoni. Hield would definitely add value. A lineup where Hield and Josh Richardson defend guards and Ben Simmons plays point guard offensively and defends a frontcourt player is intriguing.

Hield is set to earn $24,931,817 next season in the first year of a four-year extension. That’s in the range of Tobias Harris ($34,358,850) and Al Horford ($27,500,000).

However, Horford’s trade value is at rock bottom. Tobias Harris would add only so much value to Sacramento, which already has Harrison Barnes.

Kings fans can hope for Ben Simmons ($28,750,000) or Joel Embiid ($29,542,010). But those stars are FAR more valuable than Hield. Besides, the 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Simmons or Embiid (though it’s unclear who exactly is running the show in Philadelphia).

Regardless of whether the Kings and 76ers could connect on a trade, Hield making these public gestures is an issue in Sacramento. It’s on new Kings general manager Monte McNair to manage this. After years of supporting Daryl Morey with the Rockets, this is a new challenge – being in charge while a player makes waves – for McNair.

Relatedly, McNair must also handle Bogdan Bogdanovic‘s impending restricted free agency. These look like warning shots from Hield as Sacramento determines its priorities at shooting guard.

Report: Philadelphia ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as next coach

Mike D'Antoni 76ers
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Philadelphia 76ers ownership (led by Josh Harris) reportedly has been very hands-on in picking the team’s new coach — even if that means a new direction for the roster. That hands-on style reportedly why ownership likes Elton Brand as GM and may balk at bringing in a big-name president of basketball operations — that person would want total control of basketball decisions. Right now, ownership is pulling a lot of those levers.

And ownership wants Mike D’Antoni as the next head coach in Philadelphia, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have been saying since last week that the job is D’Antoni’s to turn down. They say he’s the guy the ownership group wants. One source even said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job.

The problem is that Brand is supposed to have a huge input on the hire. The ownership is only supposed to approve or deny Brand’s suggestion. Now, word is leaking out that Brand is pushing hard for the Sixers to hire D’Antoni and that Joel Embiid gave his blessing. In addition, there are reports that the Sixers will make trades if D’Antoni is hired. The expectation is that he’ll have a say in picking players for his freewheeling style of play.

With Billy Donovan taking over in Chicago, the list of top candidates for the Philadelphia job seems down to two: Tyronn Lue and Mike D’Antoni. Lue would be the conventional choice, a guy who would try to make it work with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons together, along with Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Al Horford. Roster tweaks would be coming, but with Lue the idea would be making better use of the roster and style the 76ers have already built.

D’Antoni would be a radical change of direction — he is coming from a team that just started 6’7″ Robert Covington at center. The current 76ers roster would need changes to fit with D’Antoni’s freewheeling ways, and even then the coach would need to adapt what he wants to do. (No contract is untradeable, but moving the four-years, $147.2 million left on Harris’ deal, or the three years and $81 million on Horford’s contract, would require Philly to throw in a lot of sweeteners.)

D’Antoni would mean another change of direction in Philly, but that seems to be what ownership wants.

Bam Adebayo on injury: “I’m good,” expects to play in Game 5 Friday

Bam Adebayo injury
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In the final minutes of Miami’s Game 4 win, while Tyler Hero was knocking down shots and Jimmy Butler was getting to the line, Miami‘s Bam Adebayo was dealing with an injury, walking around holding his wrist, his arm dragging. He had gotten tangled up with Daniel Theis under the basket and clearly injured something.

The questions raised post game were about what happened, how serious it was, and could Adebayo be out for Game 5 on Friday? There was nothing official from the team but it looks like he will play, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press and Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

Adebayo had 20 points and 12 rebounds in Game 4, and his play is critical to Miami’s game plan against Boston. His ability to protect the rim at one end, then come out high to set screens and pull Theis out of the paint on the other end, is at the heart of what the Heat want to do in this series. If he is even slowed in Game 5 it is an advantage for Boston.

This time of year, and with the Heat one game away from the NBA Finals, no chance he sits if he can at all play.