Three things to know: Harden needs to own why he hasn’t been traded yet


The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) James Harden needs to own one key reason he hasn’t been traded yet

Consider the message sent.

A couple of days ago, a report came out that Houston was optimistic James Harden wouldn’t push his trade demand and would stay with the team the rest of the season. Tuesday night, after the Lakers toyed with the Rockets for the second straight game, Harden lobbed a hand grenade on top of that report during his postgame press conference.

“[The Rockets are] just not good enough. Chemistry, talent-wise, it was clear…

“I love this city. I literally have done everything that I can. I mean, this situation is crazy. It’s something that I don’t think can be fixed.”

Harden sent his message — he wants to be traded.

He also is not going to get his wish in the immediate future. If he wants to know why he needs to find a mirror.

To be fair, at the heart of what is holding up a Harden trade is Houston asking for the entire bank to send out the MVP and three-time scoring champion. The Rockets want a franchise cornerstone younger player, three first-round picks, and more. No team is coming forward with anything close to that right now, so the Rockets are waiting out the market, hoping a slow start to the season will make one team desperate enough to up their offer (Philadelphia to part with Ben Simmons is a deal, for example).

Another part of the reason no team has stepped up is Harden himself.

Harden hasn’t exactly made himself look like a value showing up late to training camp and out of shape, he flaunted the league’s coronavirus guidelines, he has argued with teammates, and as Marc Stein of the New York Times pointed out, Harden hasn’t exactly been bringing it with the Rockets this season.

On top of all that, at age 31 Harden is on the back end of his prime, and in two years whatever team trades for him will need to re-sign him to another max contract. Any star needs to be paired with another star to win a ring, but Harden hasn’t gotten along with Dwight Howard, then Chris Paul, then Russell Westbrook. He has been demanding of the Houston organization and bent the Rockets’ culture to his whims.

None of that leaves teams thinking, “we have got to get that guy right now.”

Harden is also an elite player, the kind that changes a franchise and rarely becomes available. He certainly has shown flashes this season of his vintage self — the guy who led the league in scoring is still in there and nobody should question that Harden can, relatively quickly, become that player again. But other teams are looking where Harden is right now, looking at the price tag, and deciding to wait (especially if they think Bradley Beal might become available).

Harden’s made it clear he still wants to be traded. He also made his own bed, and he’s going to have to lie in it a while longer.

2) NBA tries to go into bubble without the bubble

Another day, another rash of NBA games postponed because a few teams have been hit hard by the coronavirus and will not be able to suit up eight healthy, active players for a game.

After consecutive days of talks between the league’s GMs, players’ union, owners, and executives from league headquarters, the league has come out with a plan to tighten its coronavirus protocols for a couple of weeks to get through this rough patch.

Essentially, the NBA is trying to create a bubble without actually going into the bubble. The new temporary rules include:

• Players staying in their homes when in their home market, not going out except when absolutely necessary.
• Players and staff not leaving their hotel while on the road, except for games.
• Players cannot have guests up to their hotel rooms on the road.
• Players wearing a mask in the locker room, on the bench, and basically all times they are not playing.
• No hugging of opposing players or extended conversations postgame.

This is the best the NBA can do right now. The league is not hitting pause and suspending play for a week or two (because if they did players would not exactly go home, hunker down, and avoid the virus at all costs, instead they would return with higher infection rates). Nobody wants to do the actual bubble again.

The players don’t like this, but they do like getting their paychecks. So they will follow along, at least for a while.

Portland’s Mr. Everything Damian Lillard put it best:

“I feel like I’m living my life in a box; I’ll go to practice, I go back home. I don’t go anywhere else. I can’t go to dinner, go to a movie, or hang out with my family cause my family members they have lives. I live on my phone cause I can’t interact with people in person basically…

“If we don’t accept that that’s the way it has to be then we lose out on a lot of things. Our season, our health, our contracts. Everything goes downhill if we don’t play by those rules.”

3) Joel Embiid, LeBron James show why they should be in early MVP discussion

It’s far, far too early to have any serious MVP discussion. We are just 15% of the way into the season. Look at it this way: In the marathon of the NBA season, we are just on Mile 4. There is a long way to go.

However, if one were to have that early discussion, two names that would have to come up are Joel Embiid and LeBron James, and they both put on a show Tuesday.

Embiid went out and put up 45 on the defending East champs from Miami (without Bam Adebayo, but still), leading Philadelphia to an overtime win. Embiid is averaging 26.6 points and 12.1 rebounds a game this season, leading the Sixers to an 8-4 record.

LeBron James is just toying with the rest of the NBA at this point, and his Lakers are clear-and-away the best team in the league so far.

It’s a long way to go to the MVP vote, and other players will be in the conversation — Nikola Jokic is off to a ridiculous start, for example — but Embiid and LeBron are going to be part of the conversation.

Heat play their game — hit 3s, grind, own fourth — to even series with Nuggets


DENVER — It was a recipe familiar to Heat fans (and one that kept Bucks and Celtics fans up at night):

The Heat hit their 3-pointers at a seemingly unsustainable rate, 17-of-35 (48.6%). They got physical on defense and mucked up the Nuggets’ offense for stretches. Nikola Jokić was a scorer (41 points) but the Heat didn’t let him get the ball moving, allowing just four assists. The Heat were relentless and took advantage of their opponents’ undisciplined plays. The Heat owned the fourth with 36 points (to the Nuggets’ 25).

It was the recipe that got Miami to the NBA Finals and it won them Game 2 in Denver, 111-108. The NBA Finals are now tied 1-1, heading to Miami for Game 3 on Wednesday.

That familiar recipe included Miami’s role players stepping up as they have all postseason. Gabe Vincent scored 23 with 4-of-6 from 3, Max Strus started hot and finished with 14 points and six assists, and Duncan Robinson came off the bench for a hot start to the fourth quarter and scored 10 points that helped change the game.

Their stars made plays too, both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo scored 21. Butler had nine assists, Adebayo nine rebounds, and both made critical defensive plays. Everyone on the Heat stepped up when they had to.

“It’s just part of our DNA, for one. You know, everyone on this team has battled through adversity in some manner and been knocked down and had to get back up,” Vincent said when ask how the Heat keep having these kinds of games. “And for number two, we have a lot of experience in these close games. So when it comes down to the wire, we are strangely comfortable.”

While Heat culture makes a good story, this is ultimately about the 3-point shooting — the Heat shot better than 50% three times against the Celtics, and they have been having games like this all postseason (nine games of 40%+ from 3). This was a game they shot their way to a win with those 17 threes. The Heat had 11 shots in the restricted area in Game 2, half of their regular season average — they just hit their jumpers.

For the Nuggets, it was about the mental and effort lapses they avoided in Game 1 that caught them in Game 2. The Nuggets played with the arrogance of a team that believes it’s the better one in the series and can flip the switch.

“Let’s talk about effort. This is NBA Finals, we are talking about effort; that’s a huge concern of mine,” a fuming Nuggets coach Michael Malone said postgame. “You guys probably thought I was just making up some storyline after Game 1 when I said we didn’t play well. We didn’t play well. Tonight, the starting lineup to start the game, it was 10-2 Miami. Start of the third quarter, they scored 11 points in two minutes and 10 seconds. We had guys out there that were just, whether feeling sorry for themselves for not making shots or thinking they can just turn it on or off, this is not the preseason, this is not the regular season. This is the NBA Finals. That to me is really, really perplexing, disappointing.

“I asked the team, I asked them, ‘you guys tell me why they lost.’ And they knew the answer. Miami came in here and outworked us, and we were by far our least disciplined game of these 16 or 17 playoff games, whatever it is now. So many breakdowns. They exploited every one of our breakdowns and scored.”

The Heat got what they wanted from the opening tip. On offense Max Strus was hitting — 4-of-7 from 3 in the first quarter alone — but it wasn’t just him. Heat midrange shots that clanged out in Game 1 dropped through the net Sunday. More importantly, having Butler start the game defensively on Jamal Murray along with Adebayo on Jokić slowed the Nuggets’ go-to pick-and-roll. Miami got the lead all the way to 11 as they pulled the game into the mud they needed to win.

However, in the final five minutes of the quarter the Nuggets started to find their legs and their offense — all thanks to their bench.

Christian Braun made two hustling defensive plays in a row, the second turning into a Jeff Green breakaway (where Haywood Highsmith fouled him). Then a Bruce Brown 3. Then a Jeff Green 3. Then a Murray 3. Then an Aaron Gordon 3. It was a Rocky Mountain avalanche of 3-pointers and the Nuggets started to pull away.

Denver’s run stretched out to 29-8 and the Nuggets led by as many as 15. However, as the teams returned to their starting lineups, the Heat got their groove back — Strus, Gabe Vincent and Butler were all in double digits in the first half. More telling, Kevin Love (inserted into the starting lineup for Game 2) was +15 and Strus +10 as all the Heat starters were in the positive. On the other end, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was -14, highlighting a rough night that eventually led to him fouling out.

Their bench had Nuggets were up 57-51, and it helped they won the non-Jokić minutes at the start of the second quarter by 14.

The start of the second half again saw the Heat increasing their defensive pressure, doing better in transition, and doubling Jokić in a way that bothered him. This slowed the Nuggets down and had them getting into their offense late, and it was back to a slow, grinding, Heat style of game.

That kept most of the third quarter tight, but in the final minutes of the half — when Bam Adebayo went to the bench — Jokić made plays, he finished with 18 points in the third alone, and the Heat entered the fourth ahead 83-75.

Then the relentless Heat made their run, with Robinson going on a personal 7-2 streak that grows into a 13-2 Heat run that puts them up by three.

From there, the Heat did their thing — they hit threes and played intense defense. The Nuggets didn’t match that energy until they tried to flip the switch in the final couple of minutes. They almost got it, Murray had a 3 to tie the game at the buzzer that bounced off the rim.

But the Nuggets lost the game much earlier.

Edwards, Brunson, Reaves reportedly among commitments to play for USA at World Cup

2023 NBA Playoffs - Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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Steve Kerr will be coaching a roster filled with some of the most engaging young stars of the NBA at the World Cup this summer.

Names are starting to leak out of who has accepted invitations to play for USA Basketball this August and September, and it feels like a who’s who of the best young players in the league: Anthony Edwards, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, Mikal Bridges, Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis.

This is just the start of the roster, but it is a young and athletic group that can shoot, move the ball and play at pace — deep wells of athleticism have long been one of the USA’s biggest strengths in international competitions.

The World Cup will feature 32 teams around the globe in an almost three-week competition. The USA is in Group C with Greece and Giannis Antetokounmpo (assuming he plays), New Zealand (Steven Adams, if he plays) and Jordan.

The USA will be coached in this World Cup by Kerr, Erik Spoelstra of Miami, Tyronn Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers and Mark Few of Gonzaga. The USA will meet for a camp in Las Vegas and play Puerto Rico there as a tuneup before heading to Abu Dhabi and eventually on to the World Cup in the Philippines. The World Cup starts Aug. 25 and continues through Sept. 10, and the U.S. will play all of its games in Manila.

The World Cup is the primary qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics (the USA does not automatically qualify as the reigning gold medalist). USA Basketball President Grant Hill has said that playing in the World Cup is not a prerequisite for playing in the Olympics.

Phil Knight says he still wants to buy Trail Blazers, still waiting for team to be available

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Mens Championship: Duke v Purdue
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Phil Knight — not a man known for his patience — is waiting.

The Nike founder still wants the chance to buy the Portland Trail Blazers to ensure they stay in Portland, reports Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. However, the team remains unavailable. More than a year ago Knight and Dodgers co-owner Alan Smolinisky reportedly offered more than $2 billion to buy the Trail Blazers. Jody Allen, who currently runs the team on behalf of her late brother Paul Allen’s estate, said there is no plan to sell the team right now, and it could be years.

Knight continues to try and buy the team, the Journal reports.

So Knight and Smolinisky tried again, according to a person familiar with their plans. On numerous occasions, including earlier this year, they made it clear to Jody Allen that they still wanted to make a deal. They indicated that they realized the price had gone up and that they were willing to pay more than their initial offer, this person said. Again, Knight’s calls to Jody Allen were diverted to Kolde [Bert Kolde is the Executive Vice President of Sports Strategy at Vulcan Inc., which owns the Blazers and Seahawks], and nothing came of the brief discussions.

A few months ago, Smolinisky even sent a handwritten letter to Jody Allen seeking common ground and saying he and Knight would love to discuss the Blazers with her, according to a person familiar with the matter. In response, Smolinisky received an email from someone replying on Jody Allen’s behalf with a familiar message: Paul Allen’s sports teams aren’t on the market.

Paul Allen died of cancer in 2018 and some reports say his will requires the Trail Blazers — as well as the NFL’s Seahawks — must be sold within 10 years of that date, with the money from the sales going to a variety of charitable causes. We are halfway into that window.

In the case of the Trail Blazers, it would be wise to wait until the new national broadcast rights deal — which is expected to double, at least, the league’s television revenue — is locked in, raising the franchise value. Values have already gone up, with the Phoenix Suns being valued at $4 billion when Mat Ishbia bought them last December.

In the short term, the Trail Blazers and their fans are focused on the NBA Draft, where they have the No. 3 pick but are reportedly open to trading that for the right veteran to put next to Damian Lillard.

Coaching updates from around NBA: Stotts to Bucks, Young paid to stay with Suns

2021 NBA Playoffs - Portland Trail Blazers v Denver Nuggets
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In the 24 hours since the last time we put together a list of coaching updates from around the NBA a lot of things transpired, some expected, some not.

Here’s an update on the NBA coaching carousel.

• As was rumored to be coming, former Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts will join Adrian Griffin’s staff with the Milwaukee Bucks. This is a smart hire, putting an experienced coach known for creative offense next to the rookie coach on a contending team. With the Bucks getting older and more expensive quickly — 35-year-old Brook Lopez is a free agent this summer — the Bucks don’t have time for a rookie coach to figure things out on the job.

• Kevin Young will stay in Phoenix on Frank Vogel’s staff after new owner Mat Ishbia made him the highest-paid assistant in the league at $2 million a year, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Devin Booker reportedly backed Young to get the head coaching job, although how hard Booker pushed is up for debate. Keeping Young on staff — likely in an offensive coordinator role — next to the defensive-minded Vogel could be a good fit.

• Former Hornets coach James Borrego was in the mix for several jobs but has settled in New Orleans, where he will be on Willie Green’s staff. This team is stacked with offensive talent — Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum — if they can just stay on the court.

• There is now just one head coaching vacancy open around the league, the Toronto Raptors, and they are entering the final interview stages, reports Josh Lewenberg of TSN. Among the finalists for the job are Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez and highly-respected European coach Sergio Scariolo (the head coach of the Spanish national team and Virtus Bologna of the Italian league).

• The makeover of the Celtics coaching staff could go even deeper than expected because Ben Sullivan, Mike Moser and Garrett Jackson are all leaving Boston to join Ime Udoka‘s staff in Houston, reports Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

• Former Pacers player Shayne Whittington is now a part of Rick Carlisle’s coaching staff in Indiana.