Daryl Morey believes Rockets were “close” to trading for Dwight Howard

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The Rockets made plenty of personnel moves this summer, but it’s hard to argue that any of them were geared toward making the team better in the immediate future. The plan was to acquire multiple lottery picks and clear cap space in the hopes of trading for a superstar that the franchise could finally build a legitimate contender around, and Dwight Howard just happened to be on the trading block.

Howard landed with the Lakers, of course, and the Rockets ended up with a team that’ll be hard-pressed to even compete for a playoff spot. But it was close — at least that’s what Rockets GM Daryl Morey was selling to local sports talk radio listeners in Houston today (via Sports Radio Interviews).

Whether he feels the Rockets ever got close to getting a deal done for Dwight Howard:

“I do, yeah. I do feel like it was close but they did their diligence and they were searching for something they thought they liked even more and they liked this trade better than anything we could offer. I promise you Rob knows what he’s doing and he thought this was best for Orlando and I think people will see over time that he’s a very good executive.”

Morey clearly did everything he could to assemble an attractive package for Orlando. So while the jokes about “things Morey also may believe were close to happening” practically write themselves, the fact is that he’s likely correct in his assertion.

Here’s the problem: There didn’t appear to be a backup plan in place.

Like the Rockets, the Nets tried everything to trade for Howard, and with Deron WIlliams already in the fold and a new arena opening this fall, you could hardly blame them. But when reality set in that the Magic weren’t going to deal Howard to Brooklyn, they made other moves to compete — including trading for offensive firepower in Joe Johnson, and re-signing center Brook Lopez to a max contract once he became a restricted free agent.

By contrast, Houston blew up a team that was competitive last season and elected to start from scratch. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry was traded to Houston for a future first round lottery pick, and backup point guard Goran Dragic was allowed to leave in free agency. Marcus Camby was traded to New York for young players and future second round draft picks. Luis Scola, who was more than solid in Houston but carried with him a less-than-desirable contract, was amnestied simply to get him off the books.

The Rockets did grab Jeremy Lin from the Knicks and Omer Asik from the Bulls in restricted free agency, but neither are likely to be franchise cornerstones. And the rest of that (21-players-deep) roster is loaded with nothing more than rookies, unproven talent, and guys who may, possibly, have some upside someday in the semi-distant future.

The plan in Houston was to acquire Dwight Howard, and sure, the Rockets may have been close to making it happen. But since that dream has now died, Morey appears to be content to stay in rebuilding mode until the opportunity to acquire another superstar comes along.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.