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Clint Capela providing Rockets with much-needed hope

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The Rockets, who drafted Clint Capela with the No. 25 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, reportedly got into a contract dispute with him that summer. It seemed they wanted Capela to spend another season with his French pro team in order to maximize their cap space. Capela said his agent advised him to remain patient.

But, as he tells it, Capela saw one option: Jump to the NBA immediately.

“It was important to me to come when I was young, to keep progressing,” said Capela, whom Houston eventually signed.

That year of seasoning is paying off.

Capela is the biggest bright spot on the NBA’s most disappointing team.

Houston’s youngest player, 21-year-old Capela ranks third on the team in win shares behind James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Rockets are 7-2 since making Capela a full-time starter following a 5-10 start.

“There’s still a lot of room for growth, but the confidence that he has, the lack of fear – there’s no situation too big for Clint,” Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said.

Not anymore.

Capela spent most of his rookie season in the D-League, but the Rockets surprisingly put him in the playoff rotation for their run to the Western Conference finals. He became just the second player* in NBA history who recorded more postseason than regular-season minutes (excluding those who signed after the season began, suffered major injury or served in the military during the season) – 90 minutes in 12 regular-season games, 127 minutes in 17 postseason games.

*Marcin Gortat is the other. He played 41 minutes in six-regular season games and 48 minutes in eight playoff games for the 2007-08 Magic as a rookie.

Capela’s initial nerves about playing in the NBA showed. He missed his first 15 free throws in the top league. Then, once he finally started to get comfortable, the playoffs sent him back to square one.

“It was different – the crowd and everything, the details, all that,” Capela said.

Now, with that experience under his belt, Capela is taking his game to the next level.

He’s not the most refined player, but he tends to get to the right spots on both ends of the floor. Once there, he uses his impressive physical skills – including a 7-foot-5 wingspan – to make a play. He’s a quality pick-and-roll finisher, and he crashes the offensive glass hard. He also combines the foot speed to defend the pick-and-roll and the leaping ability to protect the rim.

Simply, Capela – who’s averaging 8.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 20.0 minutes per game – is one of Houston’s top players.

Still, starting him presented complications. He has made only one shot outside the paint in his career. How could such a limited shooter fit next to Howard?

Capela says he focused on floor spacing playing overseas, and it shows. His knack for finding the right spot includes getting out of Howard’s way. Howard actually shoots better with Capela on the floor (74% vs. 58%).

That has allowed the Rockets to enjoy the benefits of pairing the bigs.

When Capela and Howard share the floor, Houston grabs 36% of available offensive rebounds (which would have led the NBA any season this millennium) and 83% of available defensive rebounds (which would set a league record).

The Rockets’ are outscoring opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions with Capela and Howard on the floor, the best net rating of the team’s 50 most-used tandems and one of only a dozen positive ratings in the group. The only other duos coming close to Capela-Howard also feature Capela (Capela-Trevor Ariza and Capela-Marcus Thornton):

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Capela might be Howard’s eventual replacement as Houston’s starting center, but for now, Bickerstaff says Howard has taken Capela under his wing. Howard said he encourages Capela by mentioning that the youngster followed Thabo Sefolosha as only the second Swiss player in NBA history.

“This is a dream, a dream come true,” Howard said he tells Capela. “So, just keep playing and have a good time, because there are plenty of players in Switzerland who wish they were you.”

There are probably a couple Rockets who wish they were Capela, too.

Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas have started at power forward for Houston the last couple years. Neither received a contract extension, meaning they’ll become restricted free agents next summer. Getting stuck behind Capela limits their opportunities to show their worth.

The Capela-Howard pairing might not last, though. As well as they’re doing so far, it’s difficult to spread the floor with two non-shooters once defenses adjust. Motiejunas is just beginning to get fully healthy, and he could supplant Capela if fit becomes a bigger issue.

But Capela has shown his talent, and the Rockets will ride him as the starting power forward next to Howard as long as possible. It’s one of the few things that has worked for them this season.

Beyond, they’ll have to take Capela into account when determining how much to pay Jones and Motiejunas. Capela’s natural position is center, but he’s clearly versatile enough to play power forward. When he becomes eligible for an extension in the summer of 2017, he could command a sizable deal.

Just five other players in NBA history have averaged at least 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks per 36 minutes at age 21 or younger (more than 10 games):

  • Moses Malone
  • Darryl Dawkins
  • Shaquille O’Neal
  • Andrew Bynum
  • Andre Drummond

Capela must prove it over a bigger sample and against better competition. Six of Houston’s seven wins since he became a regular starter are over teams with losing records, and the Rockets’ three-game road trip this week – at the Nuggets tonight, Kings tomorrow and Lakers on Thursday – features more losing teams.

But Capela was ready for the challenge of the playoffs without much playing time behind him. Why won’t he eventually handle tougher teams in the regular season?

“He’s got belief,” Bickerstaff said. “And now he’s getting experience.”

Much to Houston’s benefit.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.