Josh McRoberts to join Miami Heat for mid-level exception

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UPDATE 3:02 pm: Josh McRoberts has decided to bring his versatile game to South Beach, choosing Miami over the same offer from Charlotte. That was first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

It has since been confirmed by the Miami Heat.

McRoberts is the kind of player the Heat could have used in the Finals, he’s not great at any one thing but works hard on every possession and if you don’t think he’s athletic you will end up in one of his poster dunks.

Is that enough to sway LeBron James? Maybe not but it’s a step in the right direction.

And it’s a hit to a scrappy Bobcats team that used guys like McRoberts to maximize their talent last year.

—Kurt Helin

1:59 pm: When he sits down with LeBron James this week, Pat Riley will want to share some good news with the Heat’s biggest free agent.

Two rumored top Miami targets are off the market. Kyle Lowry will re-sign with the Raptors, and Marcin Gortat will re-sign with the Wizards.

How will Riley sell LeBron?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

If the Heat give McRoberts the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception – $5,305,000 starting,$22,652,350 over four years – they’d be hard-capped at the apron ($4 million above the luxury-tax line).

They’d still have room to offer LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade max contracts, keep Norris Cole Cole and Shabazz Napier, use the full bi-annual exception and fill the roster with minimum-salary players. However, Miami would lose a little flexibility to accept trades that add salary.

That’s a small concession to make for a player the caliber of McRoberts, who averaged 8.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while starting for the playoff-bound Bobcats last season.

But McRoberts, despite his overall ability, might not be a great fit in Miami.

Before opting out, he thrived next to Al Jefferson in Charlotte. McRoberts spread the floor with his shooting and passing, freeing Jefferson to work inside, and defended well enough to meet Steve Clifford’s demanding standards.

McRoberts’ defense might travel, especially considering I’m not sure what type of scheme Erik Spoelstra will implement as his team ages. But his floor spacing would be a bit redundant with Bosh. There’s nothing wrong with playing two perimeter-oriented bigs, but who are they clearing the paint for? Is LeBron driving that effected? Wade can’t get to the rim nearly as frequently as once did, though an offense built around LeBron posting up more often could be intriguing.

Beyond McRoberts adjusting to playing beside a very different center than Jefferson, there’s no guarantee the Heat get the same player Charlotte had last year. McRoberts, 27, just had the best season of his career. How long his prime lasts – the MLE can last up to four seasons – is a key question.

McRoberts’ main skills – shooting and passing for his size – generally age well, but he uses a sneaky amount of athleticism to position himself to take advantage of those skills. For Miami, though, impressing LeBron, Bosh and Wade now matters much more than a contract that might turn sour before its expiration.

In the last two years, Charlotte drafted a couple solid power forward from Indiana in the lottery – Noah Vonleh and Cody Zeller. The Hornets have a strong future at the position, but McRoberts is probably better than either youngster right now. As long as returning to the playoffs is a goal – and it should be – Charlotte might be most comfortable re-signing McRoberts as a stop-gap.

As long as they don’t sign Gordon Hayward to a max offer sheet, the Hornets have room to top an MLE offer from Miami for McRoberts. The questions are whether Charlotte wants to spend so much and whether McRoberts would accept less to join the Heat.

Most importantly: If Riley can lure McRoberts, what would LeBron think of the move?

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.