Rockets had an excellent season. Are they content with that?

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After the Rockets just completed a surprisingly strong season – winning 56 games and reaching the Western Conference finals – their biggest stars were asked about keeping this group together.

“There’s been so many cases to where we could’ve folded, hung our shoes up,” James Harden said. “But they didn’t quit. I think, if you can have those guys around you, you’re going to be successful more than not.”

Howard, given two chances to answer similar questions, was much more vague.

“We just want to win,” Howard said. “I’m all about guys who want to get in there and fight and never give up.”

Put that quote in context with Howard’s comment after Game 3 – “I saw quit from everybody in the arena” – and draw your own conclusions.

Houston had a heck of a season. Houston might turn over large portions of its roster this summer.

These are both valid statements in Daryl Morey’s world.

The Rockets are always tinkering, always looking for edges. Lately, that has meant pursuing a third star – an effort that kicked into overdrive this summer.

But Houston missed on LeBron James, missed on Carmelo Anthony, missed on Chris Bosh, missed on Dirk Nowitzki and missed on Kevin Love.

The Rockets’ fortune didn’t improve from there.

Dwight Howard missed half the regular season due to injury, and Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas were sidelined the entire postseason.

Yet, Houston still secured the No. 2 seed and won more playoff series than the previous 17 years combined. By any reasonable standard, this season was a resounding success.

The Rockets proved they belong in the West’s second tier with the Clippers and Spurs and maybe the Grizzlies and healthy Trail Blazers. Houston just ran into an all-time juggernaut in the Warriors. Without Golden State in the picture, the Rockets might be on their way to their third championship.

Plenty of teams would love to be in that sub-Warriors group, a Golden State injury or two away from title contention. But I doubt Morey is content to leave his team’s fate in the hands of another team’s medical luck.

After Houston was eliminated Wednesday, the MVP-winning Curry hugged Harden, who placed second in voting.

“All year, dog, you pushed me,” Harden said. “All year.”

The Rockets were the secondary character in the Warriors’ story this year.

And that’s great!

The Rockets traded Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik and declined to match Chandler Parsons’ offer sheet in order to maximize their chances of landing another star. Morey was willing to take a step back this season.

Thanks to Harden, the year was a major step forward.

Houston can go a number of directions from here. Beverley and Josh Smith will be free agents, and Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry were backup options after the Rockets struck out on major free agents.

Morey, due to his nature and how it was created, might be less attached to his roster than any general manager ever has been with a team so successful. If he’s looking for change, he can point to this final loss. Harden had nearly as many turnovers (a playoff-record 13) as points (14), and Howard lost his composure a couple times.

Howard was asked what Kevin McHale told the team afterward.

“To be honest with you, I was zoned out, boss. I was zoned out,” Howard said. “All I heard was, ‘Great job this season.'”

There’s a lot for the Rockets to process, but Howard heard the most important part.

LeBron likes Instagram of Kyrie Irving in Lakers jersey, Internet goes berserk

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The Lakers landing Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer might be their best realistic option. It’s far, far from a lock — the Knicks, and yes Celtics, will make their pitch, too — but reuniting the pair that won a title in Cleveland is on the Lakers’ radar. (Insert your own, “you know who should coach this team” Tyronn Lue joke here.)

Fueling the speculation, LeBron James and Irving were seen hanging out together at a club in Los Angeles recently. Then Friday, this happened: Cuffthelegend posted this on Instagram and LeBron liked it.

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I like how this feels

A post shared by Savage Season 365 (@cuffsthelegend) on

(For the record, Cuffthelegend gets some stuff right, he’s not a guy who posts stuff out of nowhere.)

Of course, NBA Twitter and the web responded to this in its usual measured, thoughtful way. Some Lakers fans think the deal is done, others mock the idea altogether.

Two thoughts on Irving and the Lakers:

• Multiple reports say Irving is open to it. Irving also has a strong relationship with Kevin Durant, and Boston still plans to trade for Anthony Davis and then try to re-sign Irving (even if Boston fans are done with Kyrie). The only person who knows which way Irving is leaning right now is Irving, and there’s a good chance he changes his mind in the next five weeks anyway.

• If the Lakers are going to land a star free agent this summer, it will be because LeBron was an active recruiter. These elite players have options, and the Laker front office is not inspiring confidence of late, it will be on LeBron to win guys over.

 

Jeremy Lin: Milwaukee security guard asked for my pass to Raptors team bus

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Jeremy Lin has discussed people not believing he plays in the NBA.

It apparently still happens.

Lin, whose Raptors are playing the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, via Bill Michaels Sports Talk Network:

After Game 2 in Milwaukee, I was trying to get to the team bus and one of the dudes in the Milwaukee arena just screams at me. He’s like, “Where do you think you’re going?!” And I’m like, “Uh, I’m trying to get to the team bus.” He’s like, “What?! Where’s your pass?” I was like, “I don’t have a pass. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a pass.”

This happens in a lot of arenas, so I just kind of go with the flow.

It’s a fine line. Lin shouldn’t be profiled as a non-athlete because he’s Asian-American. Arena staffers should keep everyone safe by stopping unauthorized people.

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Boston, Philadelphia, Denver? (And some playoff talk)

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Will Kyrie Irving stay in Boston? If not, what is Plan B?

Is Jimmy Butler back in Philadelphia next season? If he is will Tobias Harris be back?

What are the next steps to turn Denver into a contender?

I get into all of those things with the wise Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (and Celtics Blog, and Real GM), we break down those three teams recently turned out of the playoffs. We also start off talking about teams actually in the playoffs, particularly Toronto’s comeback in the Eastern Conference Finals, and how those teams can take advantage against the Warriors with Kevin Durant out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.