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Tilman Fertitta calls Rockets dodging luxury tax ‘fluke’ and ‘accident’, reportedly approves paying next year

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The biggest reasons the Rockets lost the Warriors in their second-round series:

1. Golden State is an all-time great team.

2. Houston depleted its roster through spending cuts.

Nothing else is even close. Neither Chris Paul nor Clint Capela had a great series. But the Rockets generally played about as well as expected entering the matchup.

That was the problem.

While still excellent, the Warriors looked more primed to get upset than last year, when Houston pushed them to seven games. But the Rockets lowered their own roster quality.

They started in the offseason, letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute walk for bigger contracts. Both players wound up overpaid for their production. But Houston didn’t have the cap flexibility to get anyone nearly as good as Ariza. Though Mbah a Moute had a lost season with the Clippers due to injury, the Rockets wanted to keep him. They just deemed him too expensive.

Later in the summer and closer to the trade deadline, Houston made more moves to escape the luxury tax entirely. Those trades cost the Rockets a first-rounder, two second-rounders, a couple second-round pick swaps, James Ennis and De'Anthony Melton. Houston could have used Ennis, who had a nice postseason for the 76ers. All those picks and Melton could have been used to acquire a far better player than Iman Shumpert if trimming costs weren’t the priority.

Yet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is – once again – trying to play everyone for suckers.

Fertitta, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Last year (getting under the luxury tax) was a fluke,” Fertitta said. “We were going to be in the (tax). It was an accident. I’m still trying to figure out how we got under. I was positive we were going to be in it by $11 million. But if I’m in the luxury tax, I expect us to win.

Feigen:

general manager Daryl Morey has already been given a green light to pay the tax, a person with knowledge of the team’s planning said.

If I were Morey, I’d be livid. All general managers must work within the constraints set by team owners, but this goes way beyond. Either Fertitta is lying or Morey is a terrible general manager. Morey’s moves in the last year were indefensible – unless he had a mandate to dodge the tax, in which case they were sadly shrewd.

I don’t believe Morey is a terrible general manager.

I’ll also believe the Rockets will pay the luxury tax next season only when I see it.

Fertitta made a big show about how upset he was with Houston losing to Golden State, which was rich considering his spending limitations were a prime culprit. Maybe the experience motivated Fertitta into spending more in the future. But James Harden and Chris Paul will never have this season back, and especially Paul is at an age where further decline should be expected.

The Rockets also have all their top players already signed. Houston could spend into the tax, but salary-cap rules will inhibit the major spending that was possible last summer. So, this is a much safer proclamation from Fertitta this time.

We’ll see whether he lives up to even that.

Fans plan to give out pro-Hong Kong t-shirts at Lakers, Raptors opening nights

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We are not yet out of the thick of things regarding the NBA and China. There are murmurings about how upset people are up with Daryl Morey back here domestically, and the beginning of the season will start with a sort of weird pall over it. NBA fans, perhaps the most socially progressive in major American sports, won’t soon forget responses from Adam Silver and LeBron James on the matter, which they’ve seen as limp-wristed.

To that end, there are two fan groups who are looking to spread pro-Hong Kong t-shirts during opening night games in the NBA next week.

Folks at Staples Center in Los Angeles should expect to see t-shirts in solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong being handed out as the Lakers take on the Clippers on Oct. 22. A reddit user going by the pseudonym Sun Lared posted to the Lakers subreddit about printing up t-shirts, and their GoFundMe reached a reported $43,000 before donations were disabled, according to LA Mag.

Via Twitter:

Inspired by Lared, another GoFundMe has reached $34,000 as of publication to hand out free t-shirts as the New Orleans Pelicans travel to Ontario to take on the Toronto Raptors on October 22nd.

Mother these t-shirts make it onto the backs of fans, and whether they make it inside the arenas for those basketball games is another thing altogether. It certainly will be an interesting PR debacle if the NBA continues to confiscate pro-Hong Kong t-shirts and signs the way they’ve done during the preseason already.

This isn’t going away any time soon.

Zion Williamson has right knee soreness, won’t play final preseason game

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It’s the preseason, and so teams are trying to be extra cautious with their stars. That will apparently be the case this week as No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has reportedly not traveled with his New Orlean Pelicans for the final preseason game of the year against the New York Knicks.

Williamson has apparently strained his right knee, and his not heading to New York with the team isn’t looking like it’s just for rest as the regular season approaches. Williamson may actually have a bit of soreness working against him right now, which is the last thing any NBA fans want to hear right now.

Via Twitter:

The release from the Pelicans says that Williamson remained in Louisiana to undergo further testing on his right knee.

Hopefully this is nothing serious and the season can get off to a thrilling start. It certainly looks to be headed in that direction based off of how Williamson has performed already in preseason action.

New Orleans kicks off the regular season on Oct. 22 against the defending champion Toronto Raptors in Ontario.

Michael Jordan opens first of 2 medical clinics in Charlotte

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — An emotional Michael Jordan unveiled the first of two medical clinics he and his family funded in Charlotte, North Carolina that will provide care to underprivileged members of the community.

The six-time NBA champion and Hornets owner was on hand Thursday for the grand opening of the $7 million Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic. Tears streamed down Jordan’s cheeks as he said, “this is a very emotional thing for me to be able to give back to a community that has supported me over the years.”

The clinic, located in a lower-income section of the city, will provide vital access to primary and preventive care to individuals in the community, including those who are uninsured or underinsured.

Jordan vowed to do more, saying “this is just the start of a battle of being able to touch as many people as we can.”

Jordan first announced the $7 million gift in 2017.

Andrew Wiggins doesn’t agree with people who don’t rank him very high

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This season, his sixth, is going to be the season where Andrew Wiggins looks and plays like he loves the game. His steadily-declining shooting percentages are going to rocket back up. He’s going to break out as an elite player who should have gone No. 1, and not just a guy who gets empty-calorie points.

That’s what Wiggins is thinking, anyway.

ESPN put out its list of top 100 players in the league and very reasonably did not have Wiggins on it, despite him scoring 18.1 points per game last season. In an excellent job of trying to create a second story out of the 100 list by asking about the “snub,” Wiggins said he isn’t worried about what people say about the four-years, $122 million still on his contract, but he wants to re-establish himself, he told Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“Everyone is counting pockets. Some people are mad about [it], some people are happy for you,” Wiggins told ESPN. “That’s how the world goes, especially when you’ve got something they don’t have or do something they don’t do. That’s how the world goes.

“Even when I averaged almost 24 points and got the max deal, people were still saying stuff,” he added. “Look at max players and some max players don’t average as much, but it is what it is. I’m just trying to get right, get back on track.”

If you just shrugged your shoulders, join the rest of the league.

Most Timberwolves fans have moved on from counting Wiggins as the second star to help out Karl-Anthony Towns. Most front office people on other teams have moved on as well, as evidenced by Wiggins’ nonexistent trade value (sources around the league say Minnesota has tested the market only to find no team that wants that contract unless the Timberwolves throw in sweeteners). 

Minnesota’s new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said Wiggins has to be a ‘main contributor’ if the Timberwolves are going to return to the playoffs. Which is one reason most experts have them missing out.

But Wiggins believes in himself. Timberwolves fans should expect and want nothing less than that, they just may not want to get their own expectations too high.