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Carmelo Anthony fits mold of washed-up former star

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So much attention has been paid to Carmelo Anthony‘s fit with the Rockets. How does he fit on a team that loathes mid-range shots? How does he fit Houston’s switching defense? How does he fit a team trying to match up with the Warriors? How does he fit with Mike D’Antoni, his old coach on the Knicks? How does he fit with James Harden and Chris Paul?

But maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.

Perhaps, the first question ought to be: Is Anthony still any good?

Anthony performed terribly with the Thunder last season. He shot inefficiently from the field, fell way off in drawing fouls, defended like a sieve, rebounded poorly and did even worse at setting up teammates.

His box plus-minus was -3.8. Just how low is that? Since 1974 (the first season plus-minus can be tracked), someone played at least 2,500 minutes 2,478 times. Anthony’s box plus-minus is tied for 2,476th in that group.

Shouldn’t a player of his perceived caliber avoid a season that disastrous? They usually do – unless they’re washed up.

Previously,* 85 players posted a box plus-minus of -3.0 or worse after achieving All-Star status in a previous season (minimum: 41 games).** Of those 85, 84 never had another positive box plus-minus season.

*In addition to Anthony, Joe Johnson and Jameer Nelson did it last season. They are not counted here, though Johnson and Nelson are out of the league.

**Including Tony Parker, a current player who still has a chance to bounce back.

The lone exception: Rashard Lewis with the 2014 Heat.

Lewis’ box plus-minus was just +0.1 that year. He was on the fringe of Miami’s regular-season rotation, but he was OK then had some nice moments in the playoffs. It was hardly an exemplary year, but it was fine.

Maybe that should be the bar for Anthony.

Instead, he’s the most hyped minimum signing since Shaquille O’Neal with the Celtics in 2010.

Part of that was circumstance. Anthony got his name in headlines during a lengthy process to get from Oklahoma City to Houston. It became known he’d leave the Thunder. Then, he got traded to the Hawks. Then, he got bought out by Atlanta. Then, after a while, he finally signed with the Rockets. Each step brought more attention to Anthony.

But it’s also because of Anthony’s reputation. He’s a 10-time All-Star who was very good in his prime. His box plus-minus was steadily positive, peaking at +3.6 in 2014.

Yet, signs of decline existed even before last season. His box plus-minus tumbled from +2.6 in his penultimate season in New York to -0.7 his final year there. The drop to -3.8 in Oklahoma City might just be a continuation of a trend for the 34-year-old.

The Thunder didn’t present a perfect situation, but it wasn’t as bad as some – including Anthony – make it out to be. Remember, Oklahoma City was one of just a few places Anthony would waive his no-trade clause for. He clearly didn’t think it was such a boondoggle when traded there.

It’s hard to see how the Thunder defied reasonable expectations at the time of the trade. He had to adjust to playing with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, no doubt. But those other stars were already in place. Was Anthony really surprised his touches declined sharply? And will he get many more playing with Harden and Paul?

Harden and Paul are better passers than Oklahoma City’s stars. Anthony has expressed more openness about coming off the bench in Houston. The Rockets were his first choice all along. There are plenty of reasons this could work.

But don’t ignore this fact: If Anthony flourishes in Houston, it’d defy a long history of players like him being over the hill for good.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.

Tilman Ferttita: Rockets don’t fear Lakers, Clippers like they did Warriors

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta likes to talk.

Volume 48.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“I think Milwaukee is head over heels above everybody else,” said Fertitta

“We just need to get home court for the first and second rounds and see what happens.”

“None of us fear L.A. or the Clippers or Denver like we feared Golden State,” he said. “It’s not like how we were scared of them. We could easily win the West this year or get knocked out in the first round. Both L.A. teams, Denver, Houston, we’re all excellent teams. Just comes down to somebody gets hot and makes a shot. Our chances are as good as they’ve ever been.”

The Rockets stood up to the Warriors far more than any other team. But that was most true before Fertitta put his imprint on the franchise. He’s somewhat culpable for Houston cowering to Golden State.

As far as this season, Fertitta is right all around: The Bucks are great, combining last year’s success with important playoff lessons. Houston could easily win the West or lose in the first round. The Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets shouldn’t be feared. (Nobody fears the Nuggets, though they are a real championship contender.)

But the Lakers and Clippers also look like darned good playoff teams. Even if not predicting victory, Fertitta’s comments could become bulletin-board material in Los Angeles.