PBT Monday NBA Winners/Losers: At least one thing is working well in Washington

4 Comments

Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while you watched the Entourage movie trailer again (I can’t wait for this one)….

source:  Washington Wizards. Are you mentioning this team as one of the best in the East? You should be. While the rest of the East struggles, the Wizards are now 7-2 against the powerful West. Those same Wizards have the best defense in the East so far — better than the Bulls — and that plus a variety of guys who can score the ball make them a threat out East. The Wizards showed a lot of what makes them dangerous in beating the Rockets in the game of the night on Monday, 104-103. The Wizards led by 23 at one point but the Rockets made a late charge behind James Harden (9 points in the final :19 seconds, he finished with 33) but the Wizards just had answers. They had their own 33 point man in Bradley Beal, who did it on 9-of-17 shooting. The Wizards went 8-of-8 from the free throw line down the stretch. And they have Paul Pierce, the veteran who had 21 points on 9 shots on the night, and he had the biggest shot of the game.

source:  Rim at the Toyota Center in Houston. Just :48 seconds into the game, the rim at the Toyota Center was bent and the game had to stop for nearly 30 minutes while the arena crew put in a new basket. That’s always entertaining. The damage apparently happened on a Dwight Howard dunk and not, as rumored, because of Josh Smith’s jump shots.

source:  Danny Granger.The man has apparently been taking is post-game soaks in the hot tub time machine, because he looks more like the 2010 version of himself than the guy we have seen in recent years. Granger hit six three pointers on his way to 21 points in Miami’s loss to Orlando. Granger had 18 in the Heat’s previous game against Memphis. Consider me cynical that he can sustain this, but right now Granger is in throwback mode and making the Heat look, well, if not good then better.

source:  Jimmy Butler. The man is earning himself a big payday — the Bulls couldn’t reach a deal with him on a contract extension before the season and while Butler says he does not want to leave Chicago next summer the cost of keeping him is going up by the game. He scored seven of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and was a guy the Bulls leaned on to get buckets in a close win over Indiana. Butler is scoring 22 points a game averaging 40 minutes a night and has become a key cog in the Bulls. When the coaches get around to voting for the All-Star Game reserves it’s going to be tough to leave him off the list.

source:  Kings 4-on-5 strategy. Okay, this was not how the Kings’ owner drew it up… okay, he was never going to “draw it up” it was just an idea he had to have one player cherry-pick on offense and have the defenders go 4-on-5 with the other team. This only happened because Reggie Evans went to the bench thinking DeMarcus Cousins was checking in only to realize Cousins wasn’t waived in, so Evans sprinted back onto the court in cherry picking position. It still is the same principle. Then Evans caps it off the only way that would be truly funny.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
4 Comments

After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
6 Comments

Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
4 Comments

James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.