No Bosh. No ‘Melo. Now what for Houston?

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Strike one — Carmelo Anthony made it pretty clear early on that whatever he ends up choosing as his next destination it would not be the Houston Rockets.

Strike two – when LeBron James chose Cleveland it was assumed around the league and by the Rockets that they could clear out the cap space (trade Omer Asik to the Pelicans and Jeremy Lin to the Lakers) and they would give Chris Bosh a near max deal to join James Harden and Dwight Howard. Nope. Pat Riley came in with a max offer for Bosh and he took it to stay in a place he is personally and professionally happy.

The Rockets planned well, they were in the right positions, but free agency just didn’t break their way.

So now what in Houston?

They still may be able to draw a quality free agent, but not somebody as good as they just missed on. Here are five guys they can target.

• Luol Deng. The former Chicago Bull and short-time Cavalier is the best fit of the guys left in my opinion — but the Rockets are also out of the running for him, according to Marc Stein at ESPN. Deng appears headed to Miami.

• Trevor Ariza. This is the guy Houston now seems to be targeting. For my money (and it’s not my money) the Rockets would be better off with Chandler Parsons at the three and waiting to find a four, but Ariza is one option if they want to go a little smaller. He could be costly as the Wizards want to keep him and he’s everybody’s backup plan. He is a good defender who last year shot the ball well all over the court on his way to 14.4 points a game and a .590 true shooting percentage.

• Greg Monroe. This would be a bet on potential, that he could develop into an All-Star level player. The problem is he is an expensive gamble — it likely takes a max or close to it offer to pry him out of Detroit, and the Pistons still could match anyway (Monroe is a restricted free agent). Monroe has a versatile offensive game — at the elbow he can score and make good decisions he is solid in the post and runs the floor well.

• Wait. Being patient sucks. Both for fans and owners. But sometimes it is the best option. The Rockets are in position to go after big free agents in the coming years, or to make trades — as long as they don’t screw up their flexibility by overpaying for a second tier guy. Wait out the market, wait for next year’s free agent crop. The Rockets should improve after a year together and some playoff experience (if not, Kevin McHale should worry) and with Parsons back in the fold this is a dangerous team. Don’t mess up what you have just to get something.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.