Opening night preview: Rockets at Lakers

10 Comments

There will be plenty of drama surrounding opening night’s contest between the Lakers and the Rockets, but it probably won’t include the kind created by a close game where we wonder who will win or lose.

While Kobe Bryant’s return after appearing in just six games last season due to injury would be exciting for basketball fans under any circumstances, the fact that it comes at home against Dwight Howard, who bolted L.A. in free agency after one disastrous season, makes it an especially compelling matchup.

By now, you’ve certainly heard about the messy way things ended between Howard and the Lakers, with Bryant essentially sabotaging the team’s free agent pitch meeting to try and help Dwight make his decision to leave that much easier. The two couldn’t have differed any more greatly from a personality standpoint, and the combination of Bryant’s ruthlessness with the opportunity to win by playing with a deeper roster in Houston was worth leaving $30 million on the table to do so in Howard’s eyes.

Beyond seeing how that plays out when the two are on the court, there are a few other things to watch.

The Lakers are expected to have a down season again, thanks to the roster continuing to be in somewhat of a state of flux. The team added pieces to plug holes as a kind of short-term fix until it can once again attract a star free agent or two to come to Los Angeles, two of the more prominent being Carlos Boozer and Jeremy Lin, both of whom will be in the starting lineup for this one.

But L.A. is missing guys, too. Steve Nash is done for good, thanks to his nerve issue never quite being settled to the point where he could play on anything resembling a consistent basis. Nick Young is out for a bit after suffering torn ligaments in his thumb during practice, and others like Ronnie Price, Xavier Henry and Ryan Kelly have been dealing with injuries that should keep them sidelined for most (if not all) of this opening night contest.

The fact that the bulk of those players we just mentioned are so far from being recognizable by the casual fan tells you just how far this Lakers team has fallen.

Things aren’t nearly as bad in Houston, though the Rockets had a lackluster offseason that, at least on paper, undoubtedly left the team worse.

Houston swung for the fences in free agency, attempting to add a third star player next to Howard and James Harden to truly vault the team to a level of legitimate contention. But after striking out with Carmelo Anthony and coming close with Chris Bosh before Miami offered him max money to stay, the Rockets let Chandler Parsons go to the Mavericks for nothing in return, and traded a reliable defensive big man in Omer Asik away to the Pelicans for a future first round pick.

The Rockets tried to add some depth by overpaying for Trevor Ariza (again), and trading for veteran shooter Jason Terry. But that’s about it, and while Harden may not have seen the value in all that Parsons gave the team, the likelihood exists that it will be difficult for Houston to be as good as it was a season ago — when the team was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

None of that should matter tonight, however, against a Lakers team that will have all kinds of trouble slowing Houston offensively. The Rockets averaged a ridiculous 130.7 points per game in their three wins against L.A. last year, and barring an unexpected, transcendent performance from Bryant, Houston should end up pulling away somewhat convincingly.

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Houston Rockets

ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: L.A. Lakers

Opening night preview: Magic at Pelicans

Opening night preview: Mavericks at Spurs

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

Associated Press
Leave a comment

David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

Getty Images
1 Comment

Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

1 Comment

Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.