Thabo Sefolosha

James Harden scores 32, passes 20,000 points to lead Rockets during blowout of Timberwolves

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HOUSTON — James Harden didn’t have much to say after he surpassed 20,000 points on Saturday in Houston’s blowout win over Minnesota.

“It’s a great accomplishment obviously,” he said. “I have a bigger picture and bigger goals but it’s pretty cool.”

Teammate and longtime friend Russell Westbrook, who also played in the game when Harden got the first points of his NBA career, was much more effusive in his comments about the milestone.

“To be able to do that on a very, very high level is something we don’t take for granted,” Westbrook said. “Growing up in L.A. and being able to see him progress over the years to me is just a blessing to see as his friend and I’m truly happy for him.”

Harden scored 32 points in three quarters to help the Rockets roll to the 139-109 victory.

Houston led by double figures for most of the game and used a huge run in the third quarter to put the game out of reach and bounce back after a lopsided loss to Oklahoma City on Thursday night.

Harden, who had 12 rebounds and eight assists, is the 45th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 points and the seventh-youngest. He entered the game 10 points away and reached the milestone in fitting fashion, on a step-back 3-pointer midway through the second quarter.

The public address announcer simply said 20,000 after Harden hit the shot, before a video was played during the next timeout to mark the occasion. The video showed him making his first points in the NBA while with the Thunder, then making a free throw that gave him 10,000 points and a replay of the 3 that got him to 20,000.

He got the game ball on Saturday and presented it to his mother.

“’She has everything,” Harden said. “Every goal and achievement that I have, she has it. I gave it to her and she’ll put it in a safe place.”

Already without Clint Capela because of a bruised heel, the Rockets lost fellow starter P.J. Tucker early in the first quarter when he fell hard on his right shoulder. But Houston was just fine without them thanks to another big game from Harden and a 30-point performance by Westbrook.

Josh Okogie had 16 points off the bench for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns remained out with a left knee sprain that has had him sidelined since mid-December. The 30-point defeat was their largest loss of the season.

“We need to be better in terms of withstanding runs, especially against a good team,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “You give them credit. They got us tonight.”

The Rockets were up by 16 at halftime and 17 in the third quarter before scoring the next 16 points to push the lead to 89-56 with about 5 minutes left in the quarter.

Harden made two 3-pointers in that span and added another three points when he was fouled on a 3 and made all the free throws. The Timberwolves had three turnovers, including two from Andrew Wiggins, to help Houston pad the lead.

Minnesota cut the lead to 26 entering the fourth quarter, but the Rockets extended it to 115-82 with about 9 minutes left by opening the quarter with a 13-6 run.

Westbrook made a layup soon after that before stealing the ball on a bad pass by Jeff Teague and dishing it to Ben McLemore, who found Thabo Sefolosha for a 3 that made it 124-86. The Timberwolves called a timeout and all of Houston’s starters except Isaiah Hartenstein went to the bench after that with about 8 minutes to go.

Hartenstein started in place of Capela and had 17 points and 15 rebounds. Eric Gordon added 17 points and tied a season high with five 3-pointers.

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.

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.

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.

Kyle Korver discusses, comes to grips with white privilege in very personal story

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The kind of privilege that can be hardest to notice is the inherent kind, that always surrounds you. For example, if you grow up wealthy, you could grow up and live a life that rarely truly glimpses — let alone experiences — what it is like to live a life barely getting by (if that). You never really understand the advantages it brings because the circles you run in have those same advantages.

That’s how Kyle Korver felt about white privilege.

That despite playing in an NBA that is majority black. That despite being a friend and teammate of Thabo Sefolosha, a player who had his leg broken during an arrest by the NYPD (Sefolosha won a $4 million settlement from the New York police, a large part of which he donated to a program that helps train public defenders).

Korver said the recent issues with Russell Westbrook in Utah opened his eyes. Korver wrote about it in a very personal way for the Players’ Tribune in a must-read story.

There’s an elephant in the room that I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last few weeks. It’s the fact that, demographically, if we’re being honest: I have more in common with the fans in the crowd at your average NBA game than I have with the players on the court.

And after the events in Salt Lake City last month, and as we’ve been discussing them since, I’ve really started to recognize the role those demographics play in my privilege. It’s like — I may be Thabo’s friend, or Ekpe’s teammate, or Russ’s colleague; I may work with those guys. And I absolutely 100% stand with them.

But I look like the other guy.

And whether I like it or not? I’m beginning to understand how that means something…

“How can I — as a white man, part of this systemic problem — become part of the solution when it comes to racism in my workplace? In my community? In this country?”

My summary of what Korver said cannot do it justice, not to the depth or the nuance. Just go read it.

Sometimes people can be slow to recognize the advantages they inherently have. I am certainly in that group.

The only way we as a nation can move past some of these issues starts with a frank and honest discussion. One that is not easy to have and will lead to a backlash from some quarters. Progress is never painless (and never linear). Korver’s piece is the kind of honesty, thoughtfulness, and self-reflection we need more of as a nation.