James Harden intent on winning title with Rockets in wake of new deal

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden never wants to leave Houston and is intent on bringing another NBA title to the city the Californian now considers home.

And the Rockets are doing everything possible to make sure the Beard gets exactly what he wants.

The clearest evidence of that came a week ago when they signed him to the biggest contract in league history: a four-year, “supermax” extension that guarantees $228 million over the next six seasons.

“I know where I want to retire ultimately and I know where I want to win a championship,” Harden said Saturday. “Everything is going to happen in Houston and that’s the reason I’m here forever.”

Since orchestrating the trade that brought Harden to Houston from Oklahoma City in 2012, general manager Daryl Morey has known he had a cornerstone player to build a team around. To him, shelling out that much money to keep the 27-year-old off the free agent market until the 2022-23 season was a no-brainer.

“Some of our decisions are hard. This one’s easy,” Morey said. “We’d do more if we could. This was the most they allow us to do.”

The contract extension followed the Rockets’ trade for nine-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul late last month, giving Harden another superstar to help chase Houston’s first title since the Rockets won two in a row in 1994-95.

There have been questions about how the two will fit together in Houston after Harden had the finest season of his career while playing point guard in first-year coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. But Harden isn’t worried about that.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever seen anything like this before,” he said. “Two guys that can create and facilitate and just do things with the ball that nobody’s done from the one position and the shooting guard position. So it’s going to be fun. I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Harden finished second in MVP voting last season behind Russell Westbrook after ranking second in the league with 29.1 points per game and first with 11.2 assists. He had 64 double-doubles last year after combining for just 67 in the first seven seasons of his career, and notched 22 triple-doubles after getting just nine total before last season.

“I’ve coached a lot of people and watched a lot of games and the stuff that he did day in and day out was incredible,” D’Antoni said. “Now I’m just so excited that he’s going to be here for a long time.”

Harden’s brilliant season ended with a thud when the Rockets were eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in a 39-point loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. Harden didn’t attempt a shot until halfway through the second quarter of the blowout and finished with 10 points to tie a season low.

That loss still weighs on Harden, who shouldered the blame for the defeat in the hours after the game.

“For sure it motivates me,” he said. “Of course it wasn’t how we wanted it to end … but that’s what life is about. You get tested and you go through certain things where things don’t happen your way … you have to sit back, look at how you can be better and go out there and just be better at it. And if you fail, do it again.”

Harden is excited about his new deal and humbled to have signed the richest contract in NBA history. However, he insists that all those zeros in his bank account will be hollow if he doesn’t take the Rockets to the next level.

“Money is cool … but it doesn’t really mean anything without holding that championship up,” Harden said. “So that’s what we’re working toward. That’s why I’m in the gym every single day and I won’t stop until I get it.”

 

It may be moot, but Kawhi Leonard now eligible for super-max contract with Spurs

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Early on in the Kawhi Leonard saga with the Spurs, there was a sense in some (even many) quarters of the NBA world that the two sides would work things out. Why? Because the Spurs can offer Leonard way more money than anybody else — $221 million. That’s thanks to the “Kevin Durant rule” added to the most recent CBA that allows the team that drafted a player who meets the criteria (twice All-NBA, MVP, etc.) to get 35 percent of the salary cap at a younger age.

Money did not solve this problem — Leonard and the Spurs are farther apart than ever.

That said, Leonard did just become eligible on Sunday for that massive payday. From Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Kawhi Leonard is now super max eligible (third year anniversary of the contract signed on July 16, 2015) to receive a five-year $221 million extension from the Spurs. If Leonard is traded, the most he could receive in an extension (six months after the trade) would be $108 million over four-years (starting in 2019-20). Leonard would be eligible to sign a five-year $190 million contract as a free agent with the team acquiring him or four-years $141 million with a team that has cap space. Leonard would not be super max eligible as a free agent with the new team acquiring him even if he earned All-NBA honors in 2018-19.

Leonard is still trying to force a trade, and that remains at a standstill.

Where do things stand? Everyone involved is waiting for someone else to blink

San Antonio is waiting for the L.A. Lakers or Philadelphia (or anyone else, such as Toronto) to make what they see as an acceptable offer. Those other teams are holding out their best trade pieces — the Lakers with both Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, the Sixers with Markelle Fultz, etc. — waiting for the Spurs to accept less, closer to what recent big name player trades (DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George) went for. Complicating it all is Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which does not have long-standing relationships with teams, has communicated different things at times, and teams just do not know if they can trust them.

There are conflicting reports and I’ve heard conflicting things from sources, down to the most fundamental issues: Does Leonard want to be a Laker, or does he not want to play with LeBron? Whatever the answer, every day this drags out the Spurs lose leverage.

Even so, this could drag out into training camp. Or longer.

Grizzlies sign second-round pick Jevon Carter to multiyear contract

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies have signed second-round pick Jevon Carter to a multiyear deal.

Terms of the contract announced Sunday were not disclosed, but Carter himself confirmed the deal.

Carter has impressed at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and in Utah. His dogged, aggressive defense has slowed players — Trae Young had some of his worst games against Carter — and on offense his game has improved, including him dropping 26 points on the Jazz recently.

Carter was taken with the No. 32 pick after winning the Naismith defensive player of the year last season at West Virginia. The point guard was second in the nation with 3.03 steals per game and is the Mountaineers’ career leader in that category.

“Ray Allen from long distance” with chip shot to save par at American Century Classic

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“Ray Allen from long distance, how many times have we said that?”

Ray Allen had a good weekend at the American Century Championships, the former NBA sharpshooter and future Hall of Famer finished third in the celebrity golf event. One of the reasons he was there, this chip shot on 13 Sunday.

Former Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo won the event, with former MLB pitcher Mark Mulder was second.

LeBron James sits courtside for Lakers’ Summer League win

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There are two, maybe three guys playing for the Lakers in Summer League likely to be sharing a locker room with LeBron James next season — Isaac Bonga and Josh Hart, with maybe Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and/or Alex Caruso. Only Hart could see the court much.

LeBron was still courtside on Sunday for a quarterfinal game at Summer League, showing his support and being a good teammate. He gave Hart a hug on the court. Brandon Ingram stopped by and talked with LeBron for a bit.

LeBron watched the Lakers continue their strong run through the Summer League, racking up a 101-78 win. LeBron was into it, when Mykhailiuk took a shot midway through the first quarter LeBron yelled, ‘cash only!”  The shot was nothing but net.

The Lakers are on to the Summer League semifinals. Los Angeles won the Vegas Summer League last year.