J.R. Smith (slightly out of context): “We don’t start paying attention until after All-Star break.”
James Harden reportedly “torn” over Philadelphia vs. Houston
Reports of James Harden strongly considering a Houston reunion have grown stronger throughout the season, with reporting on it here at NBC Sports and across the NBA media universe.
But would Harden really leave a contending team in Philadelphia to go to a rebuilding Houston team? He appears torn on his decision, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast (hat tip Real GM).
“We’re less than a month out from free agency starting. I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home. That’s where his roots are and his family there of course. They’ve got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space. They’re going to have a ton of money and I think this is a team in Houston where I do believe they are going to be aggressive in the marketplace…
“My sense right now is this is someone that is torn. I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close. That’s why as we get closer to July 1, June 30th, those conversations that he’s going to have, as he becomes a free agent, with Nick Nurse [the new 76ers coach] and with Daryl Morey, what their vision is for him, what their vision is for that team, what that offer ultimately is going to be versus comparing it to whatever Houston comes with on June 30th or July 1, those are all very important factors. This is a guy that you would assume would sit down with both teams. Philadelphia is going to have a window earlier, potentially going in and scheduling meetings. This is a situation now where we’re going to see which way it lands.”
Both league sources NBC Sports has spoken with and other media members traveling with the NBA Finals — Harden has been a topic of conversation over meals — think Houston is the frontrunner. There is almost an expectation in league circles that Harden will be a Rocket next season, though nobody feels anything is decided.
Is that the right move for the Rockets? They have an interesting young core with whoever they draft at No.4 plus Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Kevin Porter Jr., Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and others, but it’s not got a group ready to win a lot of games on the NBA level yet. The Rockets have been through three years of a rebuild and the reports are ownership wants to start seeing wins and a playoffs trip. Harden gets them closer to that now, but at what cost to building a long-term winner and culture?
The ball is in Harden’s court. The only real questions are, has he decided, and how much would the Rockets offer? (The max is four years, $201 million, but do they want to pay him $50 million a season for four years with where his skills are currently and are trending?)
Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?
MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.
“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”
The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.
“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”
“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.
“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”
A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.
The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.
“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.
“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”
Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.
“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.
“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”
Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.
Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?
“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”
Coach, front office updates from around NBA: Fizdale headed to Suns bench
Things continue to move and settle around the NBA as teams find coaches (well, except Toronto) and some front office personnel move around. Here is the latest around the league.
• Former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach David Fizdale, an associate general manager with the Jazz last season, is returning to the bench as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Fizdale and Vogel are tight, remember Fizdale was in the bubble on Vogel’s staff when the Lakers won a ring. Give new owner Mat Ishbia credit for spending, he made Kevin Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the league to stay with the team and has now hired a former head coach to be a top assistant. That’s a lot of coaching firepower, now the Suns just need to fill out the roster with some firepower around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.
• If you want to become a general manager in the NBA, the best way is to be an assistant GM for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Apparently. Presti has had five different assistant GMs under him and now all five have gone on to be general managers elsewhere.
The latest is Will Dawkins, who will be the GM and No. 2 in the power structure in Washington under new team president (and former Clippers GM) Michael Winger, reports Josh Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic.
The Washington Wizards will hire OKC executive Will Dawkins as their No. 2 executive, a league source tells @davidlaldridgedc and me.
— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) June 5, 2023
Also in the front office in Washington is former Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. That’s a lot of brain power and good hires. The question remains how much freedom owner Ted Leonsis — a guy who demanded his team do whatever it took just to make the playoffs every year — will give Winger, Dawkins and company. The team has big decisions this summer with Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis expected to opt out.
• The Milwaukee Bucks finally made the hiring of Adrian Griffin as their head coach official.
“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players make him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”
Heat’s Tyler Herro officially out for Game 3, return this series unclear
MIAMI — Game 3 was the target for a Tyler Herro return to the Heat.
It is not happening. Herro is officially listed as out for Game 3 on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, coach Eric Spoelstra said Herro was day-to-day and “has not been cleared yet” to play, although he would go through a workout with contact before a decision was made. That decision was to sit him at least another game.
Herro has been wearing bucket hats on the sidelines since his devastating hand injury against the Bucks, but he’s been working out with the team and going through practices for more than a week preparing for his return. However, he may not make it back this series.
On Monday, both Ros Gold-Onwude — the former WNBA player turned quality analyst for ESPN — and veteran Heat beat reporter Ira Winderman cautioned against expecting a Herro return.
Reporting from #NBAFinals: I spoke with Tyler Herro ahead his Game 2 pregame routine and he told me he experiences both soreness and swelling in the right hand after shooting and he can feel the soreness when he’s making a “follow through” shooting motion. He also shared his…
— Ros Gold-Onwude (@ROSGO21) June 5, 2023
A party familiar with process had told me over weekend that Tyler was not playing in this series. But that was just one of many familiar with situation, not enough to make it anything definitive. Just pointing out such sentiment is out there from those familiar with the process. https://t.co/qvJzm1D08I
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) June 5, 2023
If there is pain and swelling, can the Heat put him out there? This is the Finals, but this is also a 23-year-old under a long contract, and if there is a heightened risk of further injury Miami may need to protect the player from himself.
If Herro returns later in the series, expect him to come off the bench in a very limited role. It’s a huge ask to take someone who has not played in an NBA game since basically tax day (April 16 was his last game) and throw him into the highest level of basketball anywhere in the world. Spoelstra may give him a four- or five-minute run just as a test (the ideal situation would be minutes at the end of a blowout game either way, but we may not get one of those this series).
On the surface, you can say Herro would be what the Heat need — a 20.1 point-a-game scorer this season with the best handles on the team, able to create his own shot or shoot over the top of the defense (37.8% from 3 this season). Dig a little deeper, however, and that fit is not as smooth in this series. On offense, he can be a ball-stopper at points against a Nuggets team the Heat want to keep in motion. The bigger concern is on defense, where he is a clear target (and because of that Spoelstra can’t play him with Duncan Robinson, even in the minutes Jokić sits). This might have been a tough series for a healthy Herro.
If he can play and come off the bench for short runs, he could boost the Heat offense this series.
Just don’t be so sure he’s ready to go.