Thunder trade James Harden to the Rockets

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Well, this was unexpected.

After contract talks broke down, with the Thunder failing to come through with a max contract extension offer for last season’s Sixth Man of the Year in James Harden, Oklahoma City’s GM Sam Presti decided to pull the plug altogether, and has traded Harden to the Houston Rockets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports has the details:

The Rockets sent Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and future draft considerations to the Thunder for Harden, sources told Y! Sports. Along with Harden, the Thunder will send Cole Aldridge, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook to the Rockets.

Houston also sent two 2013 first-round picks (from Dallas and Toronto) to Oklahoma City, sources told Y! Sports, as well as a 2013 second-round pick (via Charlotte). The Thunder will receive the Toronto pick this year if it’s slotted Nos. 4-14. That pick also is top-three protected in 2014, top-two protected in 2015 and top-one protected in 2016.

This trade is now official.

CSNHouston.com Daryl Morey spoke with CSNHouston.com about the trade.

“We think James is a guy we can build our team around,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on Comcast SportsNet Saturday night…

“Yeah, we’re very excited,” Morey said. “He’s an All-Star caliber player we’ve been looking to add to the team. Obviously, on the recent Dream Team, youngest player on that team.

Let’s break down the gravity of this deal, shall we? Just four days before the season is set to tip off, the reigning Western Conference champions have traded away a crucial member of the team’s core contributors.

On the surface, this seems like an unnecessary turn of events. There were still a few days left to continue the negotiation process, and even after Harden turned down a $52 million extension, with the team creeping its offer up to a reported $53 or $54 million, the sides appeared to be coming together.

But as we discussed earlier, Harden wanted a max deal — period. If Presti knew that the team absolutely wouldn’t close the gap, then pulling the trigger on a deal this quickly might have made some sense.

Then again … I just don’t see it. Worst case scenario, you decide not to extend Harden by the Oct. 31 deadline, and you play out the season with him in place, making another run at the Finals with last year’s core firmly intact. Now, you lose Harden, and have to integrate a new piece in Kevin Martin into that role — a player who has been known for his efficiency in scoring and getting to the free throw line, but one who isn’t nearly the all-around playmaker that Harden has proven to be.

On the Rockets’ side, this deal validates Houston GM Daryl Morey, who blew up a team that was competitive last year in hopes of clearing enough salary cap space and draft picks to acquire one of the league’s stars. He’s done that now by dealing for Harden, who will now immediately move from the third best player on the Thunder to the number one option in Houston.

Likely top-10 pick Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech makes it official, declares for NBA Draft

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We all knew this was coming, but on Thursday he made it official:

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 pick. He made the announcement at a rally on the Tech campus Thursday, then took his message to social media.

Culver, a 6’6” wing player, passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (he only hit 30.4 percent from three this season, but it was 38 percent the season before and his stroke looks good), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he may have the best feel for the game of any wing prospect in this draft. The only question is athleticism — he’s not a classically explosive, and the NBA is loaded with freak athletes on the wing.

Still, Culvert looks like a rotation wing player with the potential to be more, and that should land him comfortably in the top 10 in this draft (likely 5-8).

Nuggets take 13-game losing streak in San Antonio into Game 3

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In 2009, Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Jazz’s win over the Spurs. Paul Millsap backed him up.

A couple months later, Boozer had 31-13 in another Jazz win over the Spurs. Again, Millsap backed him up.

Late in the 2012-13 season, rookie Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers to a blowout of the Spurs. Will Barton played three minutes in garbage time.

Those are the only three times current Nuggets starters have won in San Antonio.

After splitting the first two games of their first-round series in Denver, the Nuggets must win at least once in San Antonio to advance. The first opportunity comes in Game 3 tonight.

Denver has lost 13 straight road games against the Spurs – a drought longer than the careers of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. The Nuggets’ other starters didn’t fare much better before joining Denver. Barton went 1-5 in San Antonio with Portland. Millsap went 2-20 in San Antonio with Utah and Atlanta.

Even several notches below their dynasty status, the Spurs remain especially tough at home.

The Spurs went 32-9 at home and 16-25 on the road this season. Maybe that’s an aberration in a limited sample. But they also went 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road last season.

That’s a 79% win percentage at home and 37% on the road. The last time a team had such a large disparity over a two-year span was the 2008-2009 Jazz.

This might just be San Antonio’s post-Kawhi Leonard identity.

Here are the largest home-road win percentage differences in the last decade:

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There’s another possibility: It’s not that the Spurs are that good at home. It’s that they’re that bad on the road.

But San Antonio trailed only the Nuggets, Bucks and Raptors in home record this season.

The Spurs also won Game 1 in Denver, where the altitude has historically given the Nuggets a strong homecourt advantage. If Denver dropped that game to a lousy road team, that’d be its own problem.

Either way, the Nuggets have a real challenge on their hands.

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge won’t face punishment for hitting Gary Harris in nuts (video)

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Late in the Nuggets’ Game 2 win over the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge whacked Gary Harris in the nuts.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

It surely helped that Denver coach Michael Malone defended Aldridge.

Malone, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“If there was a windup, if there was something that looked really deliberate, that’d be different, but from what I saw, and I didn’t spend much time looking at it, obviously who cares what I think?” Malone said. “It all comes down to what the NBA thinks. In watching it, obviously Gary was unfortunately the recipient of that accidental blow but I didn’t see it as something that was premeditated or done with the intent to hurt Gary.”

It also helps that Aldridge doesn’t have a reputation for dirty plays.

But this is what I can’t get totally past: If Aldridge intended to take a cheap shot, how would it have looked any different?