Russell Westbrook all smiles during introduction with Rockets

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HOUSTON — Russell Westbrook knows he’s in for a huge change in his move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets.

And he’s ready to do whatever it takes to make the move work as he prepares to play with James Harden for the first time since 2012.

“To be able to win something you have to be able to sacrifice some parts of your game and we both understand that,” Westbrook said. “We both understand that we have one common goal and that’s to win championships. We understand what we have to do.”

Westbrook was introduced in Houston on Friday after being traded from the Thunder for Chris Paul and draft picks this month. General manager Daryl Morey beamed as he sat next to Westbrook when he made his first appearance as a Rocket.

“Obviously, we’re here for one reason only, to take that next step that we’ve been trying to do for the last few years,” Morey said.

The 2017 Most Valuable Player joins the Rockets after spending his first 11 seasons with Oklahoma City, which included playing with Harden in his first three seasons. Though the two are close friends and played together successfully with the Thunder, in the days since the trade, many have wondered if pairing these two ball-dominant guards will be successful in Houston.

Westbrook brushed off such concerns.

“I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I know James is not worried about it. I can play off the ball. I don’t have to touch the ball to impact the game. I can do other things on the floor to make sure we have a better chance to win.”

Harden didn’t speak to reporters Friday, but did attend the press conference, sitting on the front row smiling at his buddy and often chuckling at Westbrook’s comments and jokes.

The Westbrook who showed up in Houston on Friday was a kinder and far less angry one than the version he was during last year’s playoffs when a sneering and glaring Westbrook made headlines more for his “next question” responses during press conferences than his play as the Thunder were eliminated by Portland in the first round.

He smiled often and laughed a lot, and when asked what he wished people knew about him he quickly responded with: “that I’m a nice guy.”

Westbrook said he’ll never stop playing with the intensity and attitude that he’s played with throughout his career, but seemed to be taking a step to try and repair the negative image that came from last year’s press conference antics by sharing thoughts on his personality.

“I’m going out to compete and going out to be able to win and I don’t really care how that looks and I’m always going to stay that way,” he said. “But I think off the floor it’s a huge thing figuring (out) and understanding that I am human. I am a human being. I am a good person, just so you guys know. And I do care about the community, my team, my teammates, everybody and I just want to do whatever I can to make sure we have a chance to win.”

The opportunity to win his first championship was the biggest lure to Westbrook’s desire to be in Houston. And the fact that it’s has him back with Harden, with whom he’s been friends with since he was 10 years old, made the chance too good to pass up.

“I thought it was the best decision for me and my career right now,” he said. “And to be able to reunite with my brother, a friend, to be able to do that is something that you dream about and you live for.”

Westbrook is an eight-time All-Star who has averaged a triple-double in each of the last three seasons. He led the NBA in assists in the last two seasons and ranked second in the two seasons before that. The 30-year-old has averaged 23 points, 8.4 assists and seven rebounds in his career and has played 80 or more games in seven seasons.

The Rockets hope his addition will help them win their first championship since taking back-to-back titles from 1994-95. After falling to the Warriors in the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and seeing the Lakers and Clippers make huge offseason moves, Houston is betting on Westbrook to elevate this Harden-led team.

“He plays with an energy, a passion and a will to win that I think is really unparalleled in the league,” Morey said.

And Westbrook is ready to show everyone that will to win with his new team.

“Scoring and having the ball in my hands is not the only thing I can do for the game,” he said. “I do a lot of great things for the game and I look forward to doing that with this team … I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to bring a championship here to Houston. (It’s an) opportunity to be able to do great things, have some fun and I’m excited for it.”

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.