Some media members trying to grade out the trade deadline — myself included — had the Rockets in the losers category for the trade deadline. The logic goes like this: the Rockets had a disappointing team with dysfunctional chemistry with Dwight Howard, James Harden, and Ty Lawson. Firing the coach didn’t fix things. So at the deadline GM Daryl Morey tried to repair the roster by shopping Howard and Lawson hard, but nothing came of it (because Howard wants to be a free agent this summer and would not opt-in to the final year of his deal). They are the same dysfunctional team they were before, and good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff trying to get that group to play as a unit now.
That said, this wasn’t a disaster for the Rockets. First, they didn’t make any stupid, panic trades that set the franchise back. Second, the one deadline deal they did make — Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Pistons for a top-eight protected 2016 first-round pick (and Joel Anthony, who the Rockets flipped in another deal) — is a good one for them.
Morey went on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski after the deadline and defended the moves they made.
“We’re not feeling good about how we’re playing, but we feel good about our roster. It’s the group that made the Western Conference finals last year….
“James and Dwight together have made the Western Conference finals, have won more than two-thirds of their games. This is a group that we would be very reluctant to split up. Obviously there was a lot of interest in (Howard) — I think there was a lot of noise about that — but that was something we were going to be very reluctant to break up. As part of my job, I do have to listen to everything, but nothing got close and we weren’t going to split that up unless it was something significant.”
The buzz is the Rockets were asking a high price for Howard, and some teams might have paid it because he still has real value on the court, but they weren’t going to spend those assets for a rental. They wanted him to say he would opt-in to the final year of his contract. Howard wouldn’t do that, he intends to be a free agent.
So the Rocket will ride this roster into the playoffs, where as it stands they are the eight seed and would get Golden State in the first round. Maybe the Rockets get on a little run, and they could face the Spurs or the Thunder in the first round. They have the talent on the roster Morey likes to create some matchup challenges for any of those teams. But they are not going to get out of the first round.
Then this summer in Houston will be interesting.
Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.
A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.
Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).
Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.
There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.
Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.
There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.
Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.
We’re not in Houston anymore.
James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.
“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”
Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.
Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.
Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.
A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.
Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.
Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.
“No thoughts, no relationship.”
This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).
A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.
“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”
Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.
One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?
We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.
Zion Williamson is back.
He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.
There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.
The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.
And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.
The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.