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Three Things to Know: James Harden drops Jamal Murray, Rockets drop Nuggets

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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, the stuff you missed while watching Clemson throttle Alabama.

1) James Harden drops Jamal Murray, Rockets drop Nuggets. Another night, another string of highlights from James Harden, another storm of threes from Houston (22-of-47), and another win for the Rockets.

Houston is on a roll and best-record-in-the-West Denver was not going to stop them, just the way Jamal Murray was not going to stop James Harden.

Harden scored 32 but this game was a little different because the Nuggets tried to take the ball out of his hands — from the opening tip, they trapped him off the pick-and-roll, hard doubled him, and just threw multiple defenders at him every possession. The result was Harden racking up 14 assists, Clint Capela getting the ball on the roll to the rim on his way to a career-high 31, and P.J. Tucker getting the ball on the kick-out, as he had five threes in the first half alone. Denver dared someone other than The Beard to beat them, and they did.

Nikola Jokic did have 24 points and 13 boards for Denver.

The Rockets run should continue. There’s an interesting test against the Bucks on Wednesday night, then the Rockets hit the soft part of the schedule for a couple of weeks.

2) Anthony Davis keeps making his MVP case, scoring 36 with 13 rebounds in Pelicans win over Memphis. If the MVP voting took place today, Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden would finish first and second in some order (it would be close).

Third would likely be Anthony Davis, despite the fact his Pelicans are below .500. The man is having a monster season on both ends of the floor. Just ask the Grizzlies, he dropped 36 points and had 13 boards against them Tuesday night.

Memphis has lost six in a row and 11-of-13 now to fall all the way back to 13th in the West, out of the playoffs, their hot start freezing up in winter. In those 13 games, the team’s defense has been fine, or at least middle-of-the-NBA pack, but the offense is second-worst in the league, scoring fewer points per possessions than the Cavaliers or Knicks in that stretch. The team needs help so the front office traded Wayne Selden Jr., MarShon Brooks, and two second-round picks to Chicago for Justin Holiday, a rotation-level two guard who can give Memphis a little depth but isn’t the answer. Chandler Parsons isn’t the answer, either.

Memphis needs to figure out an answer fast before this season is lost to them completely.

3) Did Cleveland game the system to help out Patrick McCaw? For the first couple of months of the season, Patrick McCaw was sitting in limbo. The restricted free agent who had shown promise as a rookie, regressed, but was in line for a role off the bench, refused to sign a contract and show up to play in Golden State — the team that had his rights — because the swingman wanted more touches and a bigger role. Golden State is pretty set on the wing, and McCaw had regressed last season and couldn’t get the ball in his hands like he wanted. The sides were at a stalemate, with the Warriors having all the power.

Then a week ago along comes Cleveland with an offer sheet — two years, $6 million, not guaranteed. The Warriors, already over the tax and not really having a need for McCaw, let him walk. Then a week later, on Sunday, the Cavaliers waived McCaw, letting him go to become an unrestricted free agent.

One of two things happened here.

First, struggling Cleveland decided they wanted to take a flier on McCaw, they made the offer, then got him in with the team, watched him play — 53 minutes over three games, shooting 2-of-9 — and decided he was not a fit and waived him.

Nobody around the league thinks that’s what happened.

The other option is the Cavaliers did McCaw and his agent a solid. McCaw wanted to be a free agent and the Cavaliers helped him get there, making an offer that was big enough the Warriors would not match, but always with the intention of letting him go. (Cleveland is reportedly in the mix to re-sign McCaw at a lower price.)

Is that allowed? Yes. It didn’t violate any league rules. But it raised some eyebrows around the league as violating the spirit of the team-friendly restricted free agent system. The Warriors are not going to ask the league to investigate, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times, and it’s not the kind of situation that will come up often, but the Cavaliers gamed the system to get McCaw out of Golden State and to free agency.

Now McCaw needs to prove he made the right move, he needs to land somewhere he can get some run and touches. He refused to play a role on the best team in the NBA, the team where he won two rings, that also should raise some eyebrows around the league.

Grizzlies acquire Justin Holiday from Bulls for MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, picks

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We finally figured out which Brooks the Memphis Grizzlies wanted to trade. According to multiple reports, Memphis has decided to swap MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, and two second round picks to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for wing Justin Holiday.

This comes a couple weeks after there was some confusion between the Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns about which of their players named “Brooks” would be included in a potential deal for Trevor Ariza. The disagreement came when the two teams disagreed on whether they were including either MarShon Brooks or Dillon Brooks, and it caused the trade to fall apart.

Now, the Grizzlies will get some depth at wing moving forward.

Via Twitter:

Holiday is shooting 36% from 3-point range this season. He’s a useful defensive player as well, and will add another veteran presence to a Grizzlies squad that is now angling for a playoff spot thanks to a hot start to the season.

Chicago gets a couple of second round picks out of the deal, as well as two expiring deals in Brooks and Selden. They need to clear space for incoming players, and the word is they’ll be waiving Cameron Payne. To that end, Payne seemed pleased, tweeting out the “raised hands” emoji, which he later deleted.

According to Shams Charania, the Bulls won’t have Brooks report to the team, making the real haul the pick package.

This isn’t the sexiest deal, but now that we’re in January and heading toward the Feb. 7 trade deadline we should start to see some movement.

Report: Austin Rivers signing with Grizzlies

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The Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies are trapped in a transaction triangle.

After a three-way trade between the teams fell through due to Brooks confusion, Washington and Phoenix completed a simplified version of the deal. The Suns sent Trevor Ariza to the Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers, whom Phoenix is waiving.

Rivers’ landing spot? Memphis of course.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Don’t expect Rivers to be a major difference maker in Memphis. He’s a solid defender who had been a decent 3-point shooter the last couple seasons but not at all so far this year. When not spotting up, he’s often overly ambitious – but occasionally impressive – as a driver.

Rivers will add depth at shooting guard, where the Grizzlies have Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks and Shelvin Mack.

Memphis must waive one player now. It could be MarShon Brooks. We know how the Grizzlies (and Suns) view him.

This signing leads to a conspiracy theory I don’t believe, but find interesting: The Grizzlies agreed to the trade with Dillon Brooks… learned the full parameters of the deal… realized they’d rather just sign Rivers outright than deal Dillon Brooks, Selden and a second-rounder for Kelly Oubre… claimed they meant MarShon Brooks all along… let the Wizards ship Rivers to the Suns, who’d waive him… signed Rivers.

When undermining the original three-team deal, the Grizzlies would have had to know Washington and Phoenix would complete their own trade with Rivers getting waived. Perhaps, Memphis surmised that while the teams negotiated, but the timing – and complexity – makes that unlikely. But still fun to consider.

Nets once thought they were trading for No. 2 overall pick, would have gotten Bulls’ second first-rounder

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A Wizards-Suns-Grizzlies trade just fell apart because the teams confused which Brooks was involved. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

But this isn’t the first time wires got crossed in trade discussions.

Former Nets executive Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The closest it’s ever happened – and this is a funny story – is that in 2006, we thought we getting the second overall pick in the draft from Chicago. And we were going to pick LaMarcus Aldridge. And it wound up being that Chicago was offering us their second first-round pick in the draft, which was pick 16. It turned into Rodney Carney. So, that’s the closest that we’ve ever come to backing out or a deal was agreed upon and going from there.

The Bulls might as well have sent the No. 2 to pick to the Nets. On draft night, Chicago dealt No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge to the Trail Blazers for No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. The Bulls got more value from No. 16 pick Rodney Carney, trading up with the 76ers for No. 13 pick Thabo Sefolosha, who was a helpful role player in Chicago then flipped for a pick that became Taj Gibson. In that 2006 draft, the Nets picked Marcus Williams No. 22 and Josh Boone No. 23.

The big difference between this non-deal and the Brooks mishap: It didn’t reach the point active players were informed and details were leaked to the media. That’s harder to walk back and maybe part of the reason the Suns and Wizards still swapped Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers after the Grizzlies pulled out.

Wizards, Suns, Grizzlies blame each other for failed Brooks trade

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A three-way trade between the Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies fell part due to Brooks confusion. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

In the aftermath, the Wizards and Suns agreed to a simpler deal, swapping Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers for Trevor Ariza. But the saga was embarrassing.

So, it’s time to assign blame.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“[Memphis owner] Robert Pera did not have any conversation with Suns owner Robert Sarver about the reported three-way trade. Our front office also didn’t have any conversations with Phoenix regarding the reported three-way trade prior to it leaking during our game tonight.

“We were floored to learn of the reports involving Dillon Brooks in the reported trade. We never discussed Dillon as part of this trade with Washington — which was the only team we spoke with concerning this proposed deal.”

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards entered into discussions about Ariza over the last 2-3 days. By that point, the Suns and Grizzlies were deep into conversations about a potential move with Memphis concerning Dillon Brooks. The two sides talked at least a half-dozen times over 7-10 days including at least one directl chat with owners of both teams.

With Dillon Brooks currently sidelined by a knee injury, the Suns requested the guard’s physical from the Grizzlies. Enough information and dialogue were exchanged during the process between all three teams that there was clear understanding of the players involved, at least for the Suns and Wizards. It’s possible what all witnessed was a bad case of nerves by the Grizzlies at the buzzer.

Gina Mizell of The Athletic:

Here’s how it all unfolded according to a source familiar with the Phoenix end of the night:

There never were any discussions between the Suns and Memphis about MarShon Brooks. And the Suns never had any interest in discussing that Brooks.

However, there were discussions for about a week between Phoenix and Memphis about Dillon Brooks. Washington was not involved in the discussions with either team at that point.

The Wizards inquired with the Suns late in the week about Ariza

Despite reports to the contrary, there were no discussions on Friday involving Suns owner Robert Sarver, according to the source. He was at the team’s holiday party for employees.

James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, co-interim general managers, were working together on talks with several teams and worked through Washington on the three-way proposal.

I don’t know who discussed whom. Maybe the Grizzlies really made up this Brooks excuse because they got cold feet at the last minute.

But I’ll give Wallace way more benefit of the doubt, because he spoke with his name attached. The spin from Washington and Phoenix is coming anonymously. If it’s shown he’s lying, Wallace will face the consequences of that. If the Washington and Phoenix reports are shown to be inaccurate, the leakers are protected by their anonymity.

For what it’s worth, I would have done the trade as the Grizzlies with either Brooks. I wouldn’t have done it as the Suns for either Brooks. Phoenix is better off now just getting Oubre, the most valuable player in the trade. Oubre is rough around the edges and headed into restricted free agency next summer, but the 23-year-old is still quite intriguing.