Iman Shumpert

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Report: Iman Shumpert rejects offer from Rockets, who’ll have several familiar names in minicamp

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Iman Shumpert is the best free agent available.

Why hasn’t he signed yet? Apparently because he spent the offseason negotiating with the Rockets, but those talks haven’t produced a deal.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:

I wonder whether Houston tried to sign Shumpert to a contract similar to Nene’s, creating another trade chip. The Rockets are close to the luxury tax and probably wouldn’t guarantee Shumpert much. It doesn’t take months to negotiate a simple minimum contract.

Shumpert (29) is a credible wing in a league starving for them. He played well for the Kings last season before getting traded to Houston, where he struggled. Other teams should be interested.

The Rockets have just nine players with guaranteed salaries. There’s plenty of room for some of these past-their-prime veterans to make the regular-season roster. It might mostly depend on which of Terrence Jones (27), Nick Young (34), Luc Mbah a Moute (33), Corey Brewer (33), Raymond Felton (35) and Thabo Sefolosha (35) are in the best shape at this stage.

Rockets betting on talent of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, everything else be damned

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There is a tried-and-true method for winning an NBA championship: Get two recent MVPs. It has worked every time.

The Celtics paired Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Won a title.

The 76ers paired Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Won a title.

The Warriors paired Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Won a title.

By acquiring 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to join 2018 MVP James Harden, the Rockets are testing the limits of this plan.

Houston upgraded from Chris Paul to Westbrook in its trade with the Thunder. There’s certainly logic to that. Harden is in his prime, so this is the time to push in. It’s almost impossible to win a championship without stars. Stars are also hard to come by. Sometimes, you must just get whichever stars you can and hope for the best.

But Westbrook came at a significant cost.

Houston had to send Oklahoma City top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025. By the time most of those picks convey, the Rockets could be far worse.

The trade is salary neutral for the next three seasons, which partially explains why Houston gave up so much. Most teams would require a sweetener for taking Paul’s contract. But Westbrook’s contract runs a season longer, and the Rockets will owe him $47,063,478 at age 34.

There will be diminishing returns with Harden and Westbrook, two ball-dominant guards. They have the talent to figure it out offensively, though it will require major adjustments to how they’ve played lately. The defensive concerns are far bigger. Both players have frequent lapses on that end.

Westbrook, 30, has also declined the last few years. He remains quite good. But the way he relies on his athleticism, he could fall rapidly.

Based on name recognition on both sides, this is the most monumental trade in NBA history. In Houston, it will likely define the rest of Harden’s prime then – with those picks outgoing – the Rockets’ next phase.

Beyond that, Houston did well to build depth on a budget. The Rockets re-signed Danuel House (three years, $11,151,000 million), Austin Rivers (1+1, minimum) and Gerald Green (one year, minimum) and signed Tyson Chandler (one year, minimum). Most of the mid-level exception remains unused with the free-agent market largely dried up. But hey, luxury tax. Houston could still re-sign Iman Shumpert through Bird Rights.

The Rockets look pretty similar to last year – except Westbrook replacing Paul. That’s the enormous move.

I’m not even sure it will help next year, though. Houston could’ve kept Paul and fit squarely into a wide-open championship race. At least on paper.

The big unknown: How toxic was the relationship between Harden and Paul? Several Rockets denied a problem, but there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Westbrook is better than Paul. The two stars will likely get along better.

But will Westbrook add enough value to justify the high cost? All those draft considerations could have gone toward addressing other needs. Really, just needs. Houston didn’t need another ball-dominant guard one bit.

I support the Rockets prioritizing the present. Westbrook could propel them to a championship.

But given the fit concerns, the cost was too steep for my liking.

Offseason grade: C-

Seven best free agents still available, players who could help a team

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The dust has settled. What was the wildest free agency summer in NBA history is winding down, and while there are a few questions still out there — what uniform will Chris Paul be in at the end of next season? — for the most part teams are picking up the 14th and 15th guys on the bench, plus handing out two-way contracts. The rosters are basically set.

Yet there are still some veteran free agents of note available out there. Guys who could help teams. These players may have to wait into training camp or even the start of the season to find a spot, once roster holes become glaring or injuries send a team scrambling. Others may choose to play overseas. But here are seven veterans still on the market who could help a team.

1) Jeremy Lin

It’s been an emotional offseason for Lin, one where he has gone from the high of being on a championship team to not finding a home for next season. While he fell out of Toronto’s playoff rotation last May and June — and that seems to be what front offices remember — he played solidly as a backup point guard for the Raptors and Hawks and averaged 9.6 points and 3.1 assists per game overall last season. Lin knows how to run a team, can get to the rim, can hit the three enough you have to respect it, and is a better defender now than his reputation. Lin has interest from CSKA Moscow but it’s unclear what direction he will go.

2) Iman Shumpert

Wing defense is in demand around the NBA, and while Shumpert is not near the defender he once was he can still provide some solid defense at a position of need. Shumpert also shot 34.8 percent last season overall from three (that time was split between Sacramento and Houston). He played in eight of the Rockets’ playoff games last season and was respectable in those. If a team is looking for a respectable role player on the wing, Shumpert can be that guy.

3) Jamal Crawford

Need buckets off the bench? Crawford, at age 39, can still get them. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, but he still averaged 7.9 points per game off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the very tail end of last season. He’s also improved the playmaking aspect of his game. For a team that needs bench scoring, look no further.

4) Vince Carter

Vince Carter’s role has evolved from high-flying wing to stretch four — he played 56 percent of his minutes as a power forward last season, shooting 38.9 percent from three. He’s also a respected leader in the locker room. Fans and fellow players love him, and a few times a season he can jump in the hot tub time machine and remind everybody why he is one of the all-time great dunkers the league has seen. Carter could help several teams off the bench.

5) J.R. Smith

Cleveland waived Smith not because they couldn’t use his basketball skills, but to save a lot of money. Smith will turn 34 before next season starts and his skills are in decline, he shot just 30.8 percent from three last season. In the right situation (on a likely contender) Smith could play a role off the bench. Teams will have to live with the occasional mental vacation during games (and teams may not want to play him clutch minutes in a Finals game).

6) Jonas Jerebko

Jerebko struggled for the Warriors in the playoffs, when injuries forced him into an outsized role, but during the regular season he was a solid reserve for Golden State. Jerebko averaged more than 16 minutes a game for the Warriors last season (73 games), shot 36.7 percent from three, and averaged 6.3 points per game. Jerebko could help a team looking for a stretch four off the bench.

7) Thabo Sefolosha

He has evolved into more of a switchable, defensive-minded forward who can play the three or the four off the bench for teams and give them solid minutes. He shot 46.3 percent from three last season in Utah, and while that is probably not sustainable he is a good floor spacer on offense (who does not do much else). There are certainly teams Sofolosha could help off the bench.

Cavaliers explored signing Kevin Durant in 2016

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LeBron James explained the difficulties of recruiting players to the Cavaliers: “A lot of people didn’t wanna come to Cleveland.”

But the Cavs still tried, even for Kevin Durant.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

In late June 2016, just days after winning one of the most thrilling and historically significant NBA Finals in history, David Griffin, then the Cleveland Cavaliers’ GM, gathered his staff and gave them a directive: Explore ways to get Kevin Durant.

Everyone knew even getting a meeting was a long shot. They would have to gut most of their roster around LeBron James to acquire Durant. But they had to at least do their due diligence. By then, there was a creeping fear that Durant might really join the Golden State Warriors — fresh off a 73-win season and Finals heartbreak at the expense of James and the Cavs. Everyone understood what that would do to the league’s competitive landscape.

“I don’t believe you can dream big enough in the NBA,” Griffin says now in recalling that meeting. “You have to go through the exercise.”

The difference between the Cavaliers and Warriors, who got Durant: Cleveland got serious in its Durant exploration days before free agency. Golden State planned its pursuit more than a year in advance and, through Draymond Green, recruited Durant for months (and might have gotten him hooked early).

The Warriors also had the luxury of Stephen Curry being on a relative cheap contract extension he signed while dealing with significant ankle injuries. That allowed Golden State to fairly easily clear enough cap space to sign Durant outright.

The Cavs, on the other hand, were capped out. Even trimming the roster to just LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – which would have meant dumping guaranteed salaries for Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Mo Williams and Sasha Kaun – would have left the Cavaliers with less than max cap room for Durant. Getting Durant would have also required moving Irving or Love, maybe in a sign-and-trade.

That would have required the Thunder to agree, no easy task.

And, of course, Durant would have had to agree. Given Durant’s comments about playing with LeBron since, that was highly unlikely. Durant didn’t meet with Cleveland during free agency, though he did meet with the Warriors, Thunder, Clippers, Spurs, Celtics and Heat.

I appreciate Griffin’s ambition. More teams should explore signing star free agents. Too many teams believe they have no chance and don’t enter the chase.

But there’s a major difference in execution.

The Cavaliers almost certainly weren’t getting Durant, regardless. Their odds sunk even lower when they waited so long to figure out how to do it.

Golden State certainly required good fortune to get Durant – Curry’s cheap extension, the right combination of results the prior postseason, the cap spike coming in a year a star free agent was ready to move. But the Warriors maximized their chances by preparing more than a year before Durant’s free agency.

That’s why, as eyerolling as it is, they can call themselves light years ahead.

Watch James Harden score 31 to help Rockets rout slumping 76ers 107-91

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HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets are finally healthy and it has them on a roll.

James Harden had 31 points and 10 rebounds and the Rockets extended their winning streak to a season-high seven games with a 107-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

While Harden has missed just four games this season, fellow stars Chris Paul and Clint Capela have missed 15 and 19 games, respectively, with injuries.

“I think it’s very obvious with Clint, Chris and James playing together and they’re all healthy and in rhythm we’re pretty hard to beat,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Houston improved to 21-9 this season in games when all three play after going 42-3 in such games last season.

“Our pace and energy has been really good and it always helps to be healthy,” Paul said.

The Rockets had a big lead for most of the night after a 37-point first quarter and were up by 22 entering the fourth. Philadelphia had trouble containing Capela with Joel Embiid out for the eighth straight game with a sore left knee, and Houston’s big man had 18 points and nine rebounds.

“They did an excellent job at defending us,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “I just think that first period sort of set the table and we found it difficult to respond after that.”

The victory came after Philadelphia won the first meeting this season 121-93 behind 32 points from Embiid.

Gerald Green and Iman Shumpert each made a 3-pointer to power a 6-2 run in the fourth quarter and extend the lead to 96-72 with nine minutes left. Philadelphia scored the next five points before Harden wowed the crowd with a between-the-legs bounce pass to Capela, but he was fouled on the shot and missed both free throws.

Houston led by 16 with about five minutes left when Harden had a dunk to make it 99-81 and give him at least 30 points in his NBA-leading 30th game this season. Coach Mike D’Antoni cleared the bench soon after that with the game in hand.

Tobias Harris had 22 points for the 76ers, who dropped their second straight. Ben Simmons played despite dealing with stomach flu and added 15 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Philadelphia shot just 3 of 26 on 3-pointers with JJ Redick going 1 for 9 and Mike Scott missing all of his five attempts.

The 76ers opened the third quarter with a 9-6 run to cut the lead to 12 points, but Houston scored the next six points with 3s from Harden and Eric Gordon to push it to 71-53 with about six minutes left in the quarter.

Harden left briefly in the second quarter after crashing to the court after a collision with Simmons while attempting a shot. He remained on the court on his back writhing in pain for a couple of minutes before getting to his feet and going to the locker room. He appeared to have injured his right wrist and had it taped when he returned to the court.

It didn’t seem to be bothering him much after he returned to the game and he provided a highlight-reel play when he used a crossover to shake Jimmy Butler at the 3-point line and drove into the lane for a layup to leave Houston up 59-44 at halftime.

D’Antoni said that Harden was OK, but a team official said that he was getting a precautionary X-ray after the game and wasn’t available to reporters.