Three Things to Know: Carmelo Anthony to be traded, released, hit free agency. Then what?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Carmelo Anthony to get traded, released, become a free agent. But then what? By the end of the day today (Tuesday), Carmelo Anthony will be released from Houston Rockets limbo.

And land in another kind of limbo — his future is not much more clear.

The Houston Rockets have agreed to terms and will trade Anthony and some cash to Chicago Tuesday. This deal ultimately saves Houston $6.2 million in salary and tax, and Chicago will net just a little under $1 million — everyone is doing it for the money.

However, Anthony is never going to put on a Bulls’ jersey. Much like his summer trade from Oklahoma City to Atlanta, this is just a move to find a team that could take him on then release him. Chicago expected to hold on to Anthony through the Feb. 7 deadline (on the off chance they can find a one-on-one trade for him) but not play him — the same on-the-roster-but-not situation he was in Houston. If/when the Bulls cannot trade him they will waive him on a buyout after Feb. 7.

Then Anthony will finally get his wish and be a free agent.

Then what?

Nobody knows. There are reports he has options for a landing spot, but if he had good ones he’d already be with that team. Clearly he is holding out for a better situation.

What would that look like? The Rockets prefer to have  Kenneth Faried in the rotation over ‘Melo at this point.

A contender/playoff team is going to ask him to come off the bench and play a role — something he was not willing to do in Houston. He felt his stature in the game — and ‘Melo is unquestionably a future Hall of Famer, and at his peak was an amazing bucket getter — entitled him to more than the small role the Rockets had for him. The problem is Anthony’s game no longer merits more than a smaller bench role. In Houston his offense slipped, he shot 32.8 percent from three, struggled to create good looks for himself in isolation, and was on pace for a career-worst .503 true shooting percentage. His defense remains a serious liability. His catch-and-shoot threes should improve, however, he simply cannot create efficient offense for himself anymore so he will be relegated to a shooter’s role. A role he does not want.

This brings us to the one team Anthony keeps getting linked to, the Los Angeles Lakers. (Which is more about LeBron James wanting to find his friend a good landing spot than the Lakers actually wanting him.) The role Anthony wants is currently filled on the wing by Kyle Kuzma — and Kuzma is better at it right now than Anthony can be (19.3 points per game, an athletic and attacking style that pairs well with LeBron). That means Anthony would have to accept a limited roll off the bench as a shooter, and he wouldn’t do that in Houston. Why are the Lakers going to cut a guaranteed contract so Anthony can battle Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson for limited minutes?

Maybe a struggling team looking for a marketing boost picks up Anthony, although if you run a team with developing young players why take the ball out of their hands so Anthony can get up midrange jumpers?

A thin roster and injuries are likely to combine and find ‘Melo a home, which is why Portland — thin at the three and four — makes some sense on paper. But he didn’t want to go to Portland in the past and, again, will he accept a role on a team where Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will have the rock most of the time?

Once the post-buyout roster shuffling ends, I expect some team will have a roster spot for Anthony, but the role is going to be limited. It’s hard to watch a great career end this unceremoniously, but here we are.

2) James Harden scores 37, but against a good team like Philadelphia the one-man show is not enough. James Harden is putting on a run for the ages — he has now scored 30 or more points in 20 consecutive games after dropping 37 on the Sixers in the biggest Martin Luther King Jr. Day game on the calendar. Harden is in Wilt Chamberlain territory with his scoring.

Harden has now scored 200 points over his last four games — and not one of those has come off an assist. Right now he’s the only reliable shot creator on the Rockets’ roster, he has to do everything.

Against a good team, that’s not enough.

Case in point, Philadelphia on Monday. Joel Embiid had 32 points, but more than that the Sixers had a balanced attack and good defense led by Embiid. The result was an easy 121-93 win.

Embiid was putting up points and had the highlight of the game with a chase-down block on Harden.

This is where the Rockets are right now: Harden is playing at an MVP level, but often against the better teams that alone is not enough. Rockets not named Harden shot 31.7 percent against Philly, and 17.2 percent from three. It was The Beard against the world, and ultimately the world is going to win that battle.

Expect more of these “huge numbers from Harden in a loss” games to come in the next few weeks, especially with Clint Capela out.

3) Klay Thompson lights up depleted Lakers for 44 points. No LeBron James. No Lonzo Ball. No Rajon Rondo.

No real chance of slowing Klay Thompson.

The guy the Lakers’ covet — and know they are not going to get because he’s not leaving Golden State as a free agent this summer according to every source around the league I talk to — hit 10 threes and dropped 44 on Los Angeles on Monday night. The shorthanded Lakers could do nothing about it.

DeMarcus Cousins had his moments in his second game. Not the most efficient scoring night — eight points on nine shots — but he had nine rebounds, five assists, and was +24 (and didn’t foul out this time). Defensively he drew a charge, made his presence felt in the paint, and on the other end even dove for a loose ball at one point that led to a Thompson three. Cousins has some conditioning work to do coming off a torn Achilles, but this game looked like a small step forward.

Trailblazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.

 

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan ejected after throwing ball at referee Scott Foster in frustration

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Scott Foster and his officiating crew refereed Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors Thursday night, and by the end players on both teams were frustrated enough with the tightly — but not consistently — called game they were ready to throw the ball at Foster.

San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t resist the urge.

Near the end of the Nuggets’ road win over the Spurs — which sends the series back to Denver tied 2-2 — DeRozan was given a charge call from Foster, then threw the ball in his direction out of frustration. When the notoriously short-fused Foster realized what happened, he ejected DeRozan. The league will back Foster on this, it can’t have players throwing balls at officials or making other grand gestures to show them up.

But DeRozan’s sentiment is easy to understand.

The Athletic did a survey asked about a quarter of NBA players a series of questions, including, “Who is the worst ref?” Foster came in second with 20.7 percent of the vote (Tony Brothers won the “honor,” and he is working the playoffs as well).

Expect Foster to keep working deep into the playoffs, he has officiated 18 Finals games in his career.

Joel Embiid returns, puts up 31 and 16 to lead 76ers past Nets, give Philly 3-1 lead

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NEW YORK — Joel Embiid scored and rebounded. He blocked shots and even threw the most important pass of the game.

The only thing he didn’t do is lose his cool after his hard foul triggered a scuffle.

After having to sit out the last game, there was no way Embiid was going to risk an ejection and miss his chance to help the Philadelphia 76ers seize control of the series.

Embiid had 31 points and 16 rebounds, and passed to Mike Scott for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds left as the 76ers beat the Brooklyn Nets 112-108 on Saturday to take a 3-1 series lead.

Embiid also had a flagrant foul that led to a scuffle and two ejections during an eventful return to the lineup after missing Game 3 with a sore left knee.

“I know these guys are going to go at me because they want me to retaliate, so I’ve got to be mature when I’m on the court and just stay cool and not react,” Embiid said.

“Today I could have reacted but I felt like my team needed me more than they needed Jared Dudley, so I’ve just got to stay cool and mature and do my job.”

Tobias Harris had 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the 76ers. They can advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight season with a victory at home Tuesday night.

They got a big boost from the return of Embiid, who scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter after the Nets led by seven. He helped the 76ers overcome the loss of Jimmy Butler, who was ejected in the third quarter after Embiid’s hard foul on Jarrett Allen.

Even that ended up working out for the 76ers. Scott took what probably would have been Butler’s position on the floor in the final seconds and turned Embiid’s seventh assist into the go-ahead basket.

Embiid also had six blocked shots.

“Just look at the magnitude of what the numbers say, the influence that the numbers say that he must have had on the game,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “To have 31 points, 16 rebounds, seven assists, six blocked shots and you win, well it’s hard to sort of say it any better than that. He was dominant.”

Caris LeVert scored 25 points after being inserted into the Nets’ starting lineup. D’Angelo Russell and Allen each added 21.

Dudley also was inserted into the starting lineup for the Nets and had been agitating the 76ers with his defense and his talking, but was gone midway through the third quarter as one of the central figures in the scuffle that spilled into the stands.

Embiid swung his arm forcefully while fouling Allen, and Dudley quickly moved in and bumped Embiid. Butler then ran in and pushed Dudley to start the shoving. Dudley, Simmons and referee Ed Malloy all got knocked into the seats, and after a lengthy video review, Butler and Dudley were given technical fouls and ejected, and Embiid’s foul was ruled a flagrant 1.

Dudley said he was trying to send a message. The Nets have been upset over an elbow Embiid hit Allen with in Game 2 that they felt should have been an ejection, and were further angered after when Embiid laughed as he apologized in his press conference.

“When you have a guy giving flagrant fouls, I mean Joel Embiid is second in the league in flagrant fouls,” Dudley said. “So for that elbow he had before just to have a flagrant 1, no fine, no nothing, laughing in the media, if you think that a team that I play on is going to have (to accept) that, that’s another thing coming, especially on this young team.”

Embiid would later make the biggest mark with his offense. The 76ers were trying to get the ball to him trailing by one after Joe Harris’ layup, but Embiid couldn’t control the pass under the rim. But he regained the ball and found Scott in the corner for a 3 and a 110-108 lead.

Allen then turned the ball over after three Sixers surrounded him and Harris closed out the scoring with two free throws. Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was angry afterward, feeling Allen was wrapped up by Harris as he tried to roll to the basket.

Dudley and Simmons jawed at each other after Dudley gave him a long stare with his arms up after hitting a 3-pointer during a 9-0 run that gave Brooklyn a 63-53 lead shortly before halftime. The Nets led 63-57 at the break.

Blake Griffin active for Pistons-Bucks Game 3

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DETROIT – Blake Griffin got technical fouls in Games 1 and 2.

He’ll have a chance to contribute much more in Game 3.

Despite a report he was likely to miss the entire first-round series with knee pain, the Pistons activated Griffin for Game 3 against the Bucks tonight.

Detroit has gotten walloped in the first two games with Griffin inactive. Now comes a glimmer of hope.

Griffin is the Pistons’ best and most important player. Their entire offense was built around him. His unique ball-handling and passing ability for a big allows him to create for himself and others. If he actually plays, it could transform Detroit back into the team it was in the regular season.

But those Pistons also lost all four regular-season games against Milwaukee. They still must face the NBA’s top team throughout the season. Detroit got outscored by 15 points per 48 minutes with Griffin on the court against the Bucks.

Griffin also looked quite hobbled late in the regular season. The extent to which he was helping the Pistons at that point was questionable. He can do only so much as a decoy, especially one a step slow defensively.

But, at minimum, Griffin could shake up a series that was running firmly in Milwaukee’s favor.