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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.

NBA 2K20 ratings released, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard earn 97s to lead way

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How do NBA players measure respect? There are a few ways, with the size of the paycheck being at the top of the list. Awards and accolades fit in there.

However, few things rile guys up like their NBA 2K rankings. Most play the game, and their ranking (out of 100) is seen as a measure of status among fellow players and fans.

2K Sports unveiled the top rankings for NBA 2K20 in a live-streamed show on Monday night, and LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard got the top honors. Here’s the top 20:

1. LeBron James 97
2. Kawhi Leonard 97
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo 96
4. Kevin Durant 96
5. James Harden 96
6. Stephen Curry 96
7. Anthony Davis 94
8. Paul George 93
9. Damian Lillard 92
10. Joel Embiid 91
11. Kyrie Irving 91
12. Nikola Jokic 90
13. Russell Westbrook 90
14. Klay Thompson 89
15. Karl-Anthony Towns 89
16. Jimmy Butler 88
17. Kemba Walker 88
18. Donovan Mitchell 88
19. Rudy Gobert 88
20. Blake Griffin 88

The highest-rated rookie: Of course it was Zion Williamson (81).

Anthony Davis is on the cover of NBA 2K20, which will be released on Sept. 6. Sorry, you’ve got to wait until then to play it, but here is an early teaser video.

Report: Chris Paul trade to Miami hung up on picks moving with him

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Chris Paul is making a stopover in Oklahoma City. The Rockets sent him there for Paul George, but the competitive 34-year-old point guard doesn’t want to be part of a long rebuilding project. He wants to be traded again before the season starts.

His preference? Miami, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. There, CP3 would team up with Jimmy Butler. Miami is open to the idea, but what has hung the entire thing up is the discussion of picks, Windhorst said on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Monday night (hat tip NESN).

“When you talk about him potentially going to the Miami Heat, which is his preference, one thing I’ve been told in the talks; the fact that the Thunder hold the two of the Heat’s first-round picks in the future — unprotected 2021, protected 2023 — makes this a difficult conversation because the Heat want those picks back,” Windhorst said. “The Thunder have expressed an interest in giving one of those picks back but they would want another pick farther off into the future. So I do think that these teams have a lot to talk about.”

Oklahoma City is rebuilding and the mountain of picks they have compiled through trading George and Westbrook — 16 potential first rounders through 2026, including their own, enough to make Danny Ainge think they have too many picks — is at the heart of that plan. While the Thunder can afford to give one or two up, they don’t want to.

Miami is saying that to take on Paul’s remaining three-years, $124 million, they want a sweetener. Which is what every team would ask for.

Which brings us to another problem for the Thunder: There is not much of a market for Paul. Miami is the only name really mentioned in negotiations. There is speculation about other potential landing spots, and no doubt some feeler calls have come into Sam Presti in OKC, but the Heat seem to be the only team going down the road of serious talks.

There are other challenges to getting this trade done. For example, the Thunder would love to shed salary (they are still $3.7 million into the tax) but the Heat are hard-capped after the Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade and cannot absorb any more salary.

The Heat may be the place Paul ultimately lands but finding a deal that works could take some time to bring together.

Brandon Clarke named Summer League MVP, leads Grizzlies to Vegas title

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Brandon Clarke made his mark in Las Vegas.

The No. 21 pick in June out of Gonzaga, he averaged 14.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game in leading the Grizzlies to the championship game, and for that he was named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP.

(That award has been won by Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin and John Wall, but also Josh Shelby and Glen Rice Jr. Most winners of the award had good careers as role players — Randy Foye, Jerryd Bayless, whatever Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart become — but it’s a mistake to think it’s a precursor of NBA dominance.)

Clarke wasn’t done, he had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the championship game, leading the Grizzlies past the Timberwolves 95-92. Memphis is your 2019 NBA Summer League Champions.

Memphis raced out to a 15-point lead early in the title game.

In the end, it was a balanced attack that won Memphis the game. Grayson Allen led the way 17 points, but Clarke, Bruno Caboclo, and Dusty Hannah’s all had 15 points, while Tyler Harvey added a dozen.

Minnesota was led by Kelan Martin with 19 points.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban fined $50,000; Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25,000

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The first rule of NBA ownership: Don’t talk about NBA ownership.

Or the business you do as an owner until it becomes official, even if by then everyone else has known for days and already moved on from the topic.

Monday was an expensive day for two of the NBA’s owners of teams in Texas. Mark Cuban was fined $50,000 for leaking information from the league’s Board of Governor’s meeting about the new coach’s challenge  — even though everybody knew what was going to happen — before the meeting officially ended. Tim MacMahon of ESPN reported this story and had maybe the best quote of the summer to go with it.

The NBA office fined Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban $50,000 after he admitted to leaking information from last week’s Board of Governors meeting to a reporter, sources told ESPN…

“I appreciate the irony of your reporting on a fine that someone should, but won’t, get fined for leaking to you,” Cuban told ESPN.

Sources said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expressed concern that information about the vote to allow coaches’ challenges was being reported while the meeting was still in session. Cuban immediately admitted that he had leaked the information, sources said.

Well played, Cuban.

This is a letter of the law fine, but was it a big deal that this got out? The vote was all but assured, a formality, but Cuban gets fined for telling people? Thanks, Vivek.

From the same “is this really a big deal” file we have the fine Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta got on Monday, $25,000 for talking about the Russell Westbrook trade before it was official. Even though everybody was talking about it. From Mark Stein of the New York Times.

Here is the oh-so-damaging quote:

Again, I get Fertitta crossed the official line because the trade had not gone through yet, but does that line really need to exist in these cases? It feels like the silly hat thing at the NBA Draft.

Damaging or even interesting information was not divulged in either case. The fines were not steep because of it, but the NBA’s process of what is and is not allowed around trades and free agency — and the odd Board of Governors meeting — seems behind the times.