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Rockets finally find taker for Ryan Anderson, trade him, De’Anthony Melton to Phoenix

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For 18 months, the Houston Rockets have been trying to unload the bloated contract of trade Ryan Anderson — who has two years, $41.7 million left on his deal — but could find no takers. Teams wanted multiple first-round picks and other sweeteners that were just too steep a price for Houston.

The Rockets finally found a trade partner in the Phoenix Suns, but it came at a steep price — promising rookie De'Anthony Melton. Of course, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN never sleeps and broke the story.

For Houston, they unload a salary they desperately wanted out from under in Anderson, a player who can hit threes but was basically unplayable in the postseason because of his defense. This is part of Houston’s money-saving summer (letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah-a-Moute go), the Rockets were $20.4 million over the tax line before this trade and will save about $11.4 million in salary/tax because of it. In return, they get a potential backup point guard in Brandon Knight who — if back to form after a torn ACL, something still up for debate — can give them solid minutes behind Chris Paul, or at least better ones than Michael Carter-Williams. Marquese Chriss is long and athletic and could fit in an uptempo style, it’s just hard to imagine him getting many opportunities on the deep Rockets roster.

For taking on an additional $5.6 million a year in salary, Phoenix gets a guy who will start at the four for them (splitting time with Josh Jackson) and a promising rookie in Melton, a player who sat out this college season because he was in the middle of the NCAA/FBI recruiting scandal. With that, Melton fell to 46th in the draft but at Summer League stood out as one of the rookies with real potential, averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, he played good defense and showed potential as a three-point shooter. It’s just Summer League, and Melton has a lot of development to do, he could well spend time in the G-League this season, but it’s a good roll of the dice by the Suns (plus they get off two contracts/players they wanted away from). One can envision the 6’4″ Melton and Suns star Devin Booker as a quality backcourt someday.

However, it means the Suns are going all in on Booker as the team’s primary playmaker and ball handler if they cannot find another point guard. That has had mixed results (at best) in the past, he’s really a two guard who can handle the ball at times, but we’ll see if the Rockets can find their point guard.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.