Ben McLemore

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Three Things to Know: After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch on

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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) After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch is on. Eight losses in a row. The last two were by 44 points at Milwaukee then by 37 points Thursday night to Denver — games where the Knicks didn’t show much fight (except for Marcus Morris, who literally seems to be looking for a fight every game). Things are bad with the 4-18 Knicks. Historically bad.

That has ramped up the “David Fizdale Job Watch” around Madison Square Garden (and all over NBA Twitter). The Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA this season, a bottom-10 defense, and their energy level appears to be dropping with each game. Even Fizdale called the team’s effort “sickening” after Thursday’s loss.

The coach’s firing now feels inevitable, with the only question being when — and the rumor is soon. It was clear when team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were forced to talk to the media a dozen games ago — after an ugly 21-point home loss to the Cavaliers — that Fizdale was going to be the scapegoat for a full organization that deserves blame. Mills said at the time he wanted to see “consistent effort” from the Knicks, that hasn’t happened of late.

These last two losses — where the Knicks were increasingly listless — seemed to turn up the flame and now everyone is waiting for that pot to boil over. (The reports on Twitter that the Mills, Perry, and owner James Dolan were not in their seats at the end of the game were not completely accurate, Mills was until the final minute. The three were talking after the game, but that is not unusual.)

Mid-season coaching changes rarely jumpstart teams — there is precious little practice time in the NBA, and it’s nearly impossible for a new coach to make systemic changes. The rotation can be tweaked, players can be put in better/different positions, but any spark tends to be short-lived.

There are really only a couple of reasons that a mid-season coaching change makes sense. One is that the coach management really wants is out there and the franchise needs to move before another team snaps him up (think Sacramento forcing out 11-13 Mike Malone so they could eventually get George Karl, who went 11-21 that season). When (it’s not really an “if” anymore) Fizdale is let go, one the coaches currently in the organization is expected to get the job — Mike Miller, Pat Sullivan, Jud Buechler, Keith Smart, Kaleb Canales — and they do not fit the “he’s our guy” criteria.

The other reason to fire mid-season is that the situation in the locker room and around the team is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. That is a case that can be made.

Still, we all know the real problem in New York goes higher up the ladder. This was never a playoff roster, but the organization seemed to sell itself — and sold ownership — that it was, which has led to disappointment. There is some young talent on the roster — rookie RJ Barrett shows flashes, Mitchell Robinson has potential — but sticking with one coach, one system, and being patient through a rebuild has never worked for Dolan and New York. It always seems to be the search for the next free agent, the next quick fix, and because of that instability free agents are leery of coming to Manhattan (a couple of them found that stability in Brooklyn last summer).

James Dolan has owned the team for two decades now, he took over near the end of the Jeff Van Gundy era. This season will mark the seventh straight the team has missed the playoffs, and they will have been out of the top eight in 13 of the last 16 seasons. Dolan has been the one constant through all the GMs and coaches in that era.

There are rumors Dolan wants to lure Masai Ujiri out of Toronto. We’ll see. What smart front office people will want in New York is total control — not just of the basketball decisions but of the personnel throughout the Knicks front office. Sources have told me others who spoke to the Knicks for the top executive job previously wanted to clean house throughout the basketball staff (to bring in their guys and force out the entrenched people) and that has met with resistance.

Just don’t expect Dolan to sell the team. That’s not happening. The best Knicks fans can hope for is that he brings in a smart head of basketball operations, gives that person total control, then gets out of the way. For years and years, allowing for the ups and downs of a rebuild. But if we haven’t seen that after two decades…

2) James Harden scores “just” 23, Russell Westbrook has triple-double, Rockets pick up a quality win over Raptors. Houston is not going to protest this one.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse had a game plan — trap James Harden, do it 40-feet from the basket sometimes, but do not let that man beat you. Force someone else to make shots, even if they are open threes. Part of that plan worked, Harden had just three shots in the first half and finished well below his season scoring average with just 23 points on the night.

Toronto’s problem was the other guys did step up. Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. shot 10-of-19 from three in the first half and had 41 points combined before halftime. For the game, Russell Westbrook had a 19-point triple-double, while McLemore led the team with 28 points on 18 shots.

Toronto’s other problem is that Houston played better defense and Pascal Siakam went scoreless in the fourth quarter (he did have a team-high 24 for the night). When their star struggled, the rest of the Raptors went cold, shooting 6-of-17 in the fourth with six turnovers. That’s not going to get it done against anyone.

3) Rookie Rui Hachimura is playing fairly well in Washington, scores 27 to lead Wizards past Sixers. In what has been a surprisingly down rookie class, Washington is starting to get something out of Rui Hachimura.

In his last four games, the Japanese national — and there is a media contingent from Japan following him around — is averaging 22 points a game. Against Philadelphia on Thursday he may have had his best game as a pro, scoring 27 points on 18 shots, with seven rebounds, and two steals. He led the Wizards to an upset win against the 76ers, 119-113 (Philly continues to struggle on the road)

The long-term concern with Hachimura is that he’s a mid-range shooter — he took six of his 18 shots from there on Thursday (making four), and for the season more than 30 percent of his shots have come between 10 feet out and the arc. Hachimura can get those shots at will and is hitting them at a good clip, but it’s not what teams are looking for on a consistent basis (unless DeMar DeRozan is your idealized player). Midrange shots are a good weapon for a scorer to have, but teams want that as more of a fallback. His 22 percent three-point shooting needs to improve to become a real scoring threat in the future.

However, in a rookie class where the biggest star has yet to step on the court, and other guys are struggling, Hachimura is starting to stand out as a good pick by Washington.

Watch James Harden scores 49 points, lead Rockets past Timberwolves

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MINNEAPOLIS — Undermanned and playing for the second consecutive night, the Houston Rockets still had plenty of reason to be confident.

“I would think it would give you confidence,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You’re playing with a bazooka out there.”

A bazooka named James Harden.

Harden unloaded Saturday night, scoring 49 points on a whopping 41 shots from the field to lead the short-handed Rockets to their seventh straight victory, 125-105 over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

With Russell Westbrook resting and several key contributors injured, the Rockets needed Harden to shoulder an even bigger scoring load than usual. The 41 attempts are the most in his career, and the most in the NBA this season, surpassing the 37 Golden State’s D'Angelo Russell took in an overtime loss Nov. 8 in the same building in Minnesota.

“It was a collective effort,” Harden said. “We’ve got six, seven guys out. So it could have been an easy game, where we just chalked it up and got ready for next game. We wanted to come here and win this game, and we showed it.”

Harden made 16 of the 41 shots, going 8 for 22 from 3-point range. He was 9 of 11 on free throws.

“He scored (49) on 41 shots,” Timberwolves forward Robert Covington said. “That’s what we want. But it’s just the other guys hurt us. We followed the game plan with him.”

Ben McLemore scored 20 points. Undrafted rookie Chris Clemons scored a career-high 19 off the bench for the Rockets, who broke open the game with a 9-0 run in the fourth quarter. Austin Rivers also scored 19 points.

 

Rockets’ Eric Gordon expected to miss more than a month after knee surgery

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Rockets guard Eric Gordon is off to a horrible start to the season.

He’s shooting 36% on 2-pointers, 28% on 3-pointers and 64% on free throws. He has more turnovers than assists. Houston allows 113.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court – the worst mark, by far, among the Rockets’ six most-used players.

This might explain why he has struggled so badly.

Cayleigh Griffin of AT&T SportsNet Southwest:

If surgery helps Gordon get back on track, it’s well worth it. What he’s been doing isn’t working.

After signing a contract extension this offseason, Gordon can afford to take the long view.

So can the Rockets.

Houston is aiming for a championship. Though more rounds of home-court advantage would be helpful, the goal must be having everyone healthy and peaking for the playoffs. The Rockets should be pretty safe to reach the postseason. They’re 7-3, and that was with a hobbled Gordon acting as an anchor.

For now, James Harden can carry the scoring load. Harden, Russell Westbrook, Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore provide plenty of backcourt depth.

However, Houston is thin in the middle of the lineup. The Rockets will miss Gordon’s minutes in multi-guard lineups.

Much more, they’ll appreciate if he returns healthy and more productive.

Report: Rockets fear Gerald Green will miss entire season

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The Rockets initially believed Gerald Green would miss a few months with a broken foot.

The injury looks even worse than that.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a blow to Houston’s depth. Green is a good and willing 3-point shooter. The wing would’ve gotten plenty of open looks playing with James Harden and Russell Westbrook and provided spacing for those two stars.

Danuel House and Austin Rivers could get bigger roles now. Ben McLemore (whose salary is only partially guaranteed) could make the regular-season roster and maybe even the rotation.

The Rockets now effectively have two deadweight guaranteed minimum salaries on the roster – Green’s and Nene’s. Houston will likely trade Nene.

Green? It’s more complicated.

Because he’s on a one-year contract and will have Bird Rights after, Green holds an implicit no-trade clause. Maybe the Houston native who has seemed very happy with the Rockets the last couple seasons will permit a trade to help his hometown team.

That way, the Rockets could sign someone else later in the season to the pro-rated minimum and stay under the luxury-tax line. Even paying a team extra cash to take Green could mean coming out ahead financially.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Houston offered Green a contract for next season if he allows a trade this season, but the NBA is also cracking down on those under-the-table deals. It’s riskier to skirt the rules now.

A key consideration: Will Green be healthy for the playoffs? The Rockets are eying a deep run. If Green will be healthy by June, they might just keep him rostered.

NBA players most likely to be traded this season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

NBA teams had historically high roster churn this summer. With so many newcomers around the league, there are fewer than usual obvious in-season trade candidates entering the year. But a few still stand out:

Nene (Rockets)

The NBA nixed the Rockets’ plan to have Nene as a $10 million trade chip. But that might have made it even more likely they trade him.

The upside Nene’s contract provided would’ve been to add salary, which would’ve almost certainly pushed Houston into the luxury tax. Obviously, that was at least a consideration. Otherwise, why sign Nene to that deal? But it’s unclear just how good of a return Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta – notorious for dodging the tax – would’ve required to greenlight a trade.

Fertitta won’t have to worry about that now. With the NBA’s ruling, Nene counts $2,564,753 against the cap. His salary would nearly double if he plays 10 games, which therefore almost certainly won’t happen. He has become too-expensive dead weight on a team flirting with the luxury-tax line.

The Rockets attaching a sweetener to dump Nene is most likely. He could also be dealt as an expiring contract to facilitate something else. But one way or another, expect Houston to trade Nene before the luxury tax is assessed the final day of the regular season – which of course means trading Nene before the trade deadline.

Several other deep reserves (Rockets)

Of the five minimum-salary players who began last year with Houston and didn’t hold an implicit no-trade clause, three got traded during the season.

The Rockets have figured they can move players on full-season minimum salaries and replace them with players on the pro-rated minimum. It’s a clever way to meet the roster minimum all season and still get more breathing room under the luxury tax.

So, Tyson Chandler, Thabo Sefolosha, Ryan Anderson, Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein all look like prime candidates to get traded this year. If any of Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Jaron Blossomgame, Michael Frazier, Shamorie Ponds or Chris Clemons make the regular-season roster, add them to the list.

Jae Crowder (Grizzlies)

Andre Iguodala isn’t Memphis’ only veteran forward on an expiring contract who’d help a winner more than this rebuilding outfit. Crowder also fits the bill, and he’s more likely to get traded for a couple reasons:

1. Crower’s salary ($7,815,533) is far lower than Iguodala’s ($17,185,185). Interested teams will have a more difficult time matching salary for Iguodala. Acquiring Crowder is much more manageable.

2. Iguodala is a 15-year pro with supporters all around the league, First Vice President of the players’ union and former NBA Finals MVP. Crowder lacks those credentials. Iguodala has far more cache to command a buyout.

Iguodala is more likely to change teams this season, but it could be by trade or buyout. Crowder is more likely to change teams via trade.

Josh Jackson (Grizzlies)

Iguodala isn’t even the second-most-likely Grizzly to be traded. That’s Jackson, who’s so far from Memphis’ plans, he didn’t even report to training camp.

With his fourth-year option sure to be declined, Jackson will become a $7,059,480 expiring contract. That makes him useful in so many possible trade constructions. He could allow Memphis to acquire an undesirable long-term contract plus an asset. He could grease the wheels of a larger trade. Maybe another team even wants to take a flier on the 2017 No. 4 pick.

Between all the possibilities, it seems like a decent bet one comes to fruition.

Danilo Gallinari (Thunder)

Chris Paul has generated all the headlines, but in its star trades, Oklahoma City acquired two quality veterans to match salary. Gallinari, 31, is younger and maybe even better at this stage. His contract (one year, $22,615,559 remaining) is definitely more favorable than Paul’s (three years, $124,076,442 remaining)

Plenty of contending teams could use another talented forward like Gallinari – if he’s healthy. That’s the big catch. Gallinari thrived with the Clippers last year, but that was his healthiest season in years.

Paul, Dennis Schroder (two years, $31 million remaining) and Steven Adams (two years, $53,370,785 remaining) are also candidates to get moved. But there will probably be more urgency from the Thunder to get assets for Gallinari and more of a market for him.

A couple notes on prominent players not yet mentioned:

I predicted Bradley Beal will tire of the Wizards’ losing and leave Washington. It doesn’t have to happen this season. Though I wouldn’t rule out a trade before the deadline, Beal will like ride out the year in hopes of making an All-NBA team and gaining super-max eligibility. That might be his best ticket to staying, though paying Beal and John Wall the super-max would sure limit the Wizards.

The Warriors insist they didn’t acquire D'Angelo Russell just to trade him. I believe them. I also believe he’s a difficult fit with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, especially defensively. A Russell trade remains very much on the table. But if Golden State plans to give it an honest shot with Russell – and with Thompson sidelined most of the season – a Russell trade won’t necessarily happen before the deadline.