Tyson Chandler

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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-

Hawks show even more commitment to rebuilding their way

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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.

The Hawks put two players on All-Rookie teams then had two top-10 picks in the following draft.

What a way to get a rebuild rolling.

But like last year, Atlanta’s high-draft maneuvering leaves plenty of room for second-guessing.

Last year, the Hawks traded No. 3 pick Luka Doncic to the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Trae Young and a future first-rounder. That deal and another losing season gave Atlanta the Nos. 8 and 10 picks in this year’s draft.

The Hawks wanted De'Andre Hunter, who probably wasn’t falling that far. So, they paid a premium to get him. Atlanta traded the Nos. 8, 17 and 35 picks and a potential future first-rounder and took Solomon Hill‘s burdensome contract for the No. 4 pick (Hunter) and a late second-rounder or two.

That’s generally too much to trade up from No. 8 to No. 4. Hunter doesn’t impress me enough for that to be an exception. That said, his defense and complementary offense should fit well between reigning All-Rookie teamers Young and Kevin Huerter and 2018 All-Rookie second-teamer John Collins.

At No. 10, the Hawks took Cameron Reddish. That’s fine value there, and he’s another wing who should fit well if he develops.

The only other team in the modern-draft era (since 1966) with two All-Rookie selections and two top-10 picks in the same year was the 2000 Bulls. They had Rookie of the Year Elton Brand and All-Rookie second-teamer Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace). Then, Chicago got No. 4 pick Marcus Fizer and No. 8 pick Jamal Crawford in the draft.

But the Bulls languished for several more years. There are no guarantees in rebuilds.

Part of Chicago’s problem: The 2000 draft was historically weak. Fizer was a bust, and Crawford has had a fine sub-star career. But there were no great options available.

Atlanta might face the same issue. This draft looks poor after the first couple picks. It might have been the wrong year to have two high selections. However, we’re often terrible at assessing overall draft quality in the present. Time will tell on this draft.

Another Bulls problem: They lacked direction. Just a year later, they traded Brand for an even younger Tyson Chandler, the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft out of high school. Later that season, they traded Artest in a package for veteran Jalen Rose.

It seems the Hawks won’t have that problem. They appear fully committed to their vision.

General manager Travis Schlenk took over in 2017. Atlanta was coming off 10 straight postseason appearances, only one year removed from a playoff-series victory and just two years removed from a 60-win season.

Now, only DeAndre’ Bembry remains from the roster Schlenk inherited just two years ago. The last two players to go, Taurean Prince and Kent Bazemore, got moved this summer.

The Hawks traded Prince and took Allen Crabbe‘s undesirable $18.5 million expiring contract to get the Nets’ No. 17 pick and a lottery-protected future first-rounder. That’s solid value for Atlanta. The Hawks clearly didn’t want to make a decision on Prince, whom Schlenk never selected and who’s up for a rookie-scale contract extension.

In a more curious decision, Atlanta traded Bazemore to the Trail Blazers for Evan Turner. Bazemore is better than Turner. Both players are similarly aged and paid on expiring contracts. The Hawks will seemingly use Turner as their backup point guard, a position he can handle better than Bazemore. But there were real backup point guards available in free agency. Unless this was just a favor to get Bazemore to a better team, I don’t get it.

At least the trade probably won’t affect Atlanta long-term.

Ditto the Hawks dealing Solomon Hill’s and Miles Plumlee‘s expiring contracts for Chandler Parsons‘ expiring contract. Parsons’ knees seem shot.

Signing Vince Carter to a minimum deal also probably won’t matter.

Getting Jabari Parker on a two-year, $13 million deal with a player option might mean a little more. But I’m not convinced it’ll mean much. Parker just hasn’t found traction since two ACL tears. He has shown flashes and is just 24. There’s at least a small chance this works out.

Another likely low-consequence move: Trading Omari Spellman to the Warriors for Damian Jones and a future second-rounder. Teams rarely give up on a first-rounder as quickly as the Hawks did Spellman, the No. 30 pick last year. Jones is entering the final year of his rookie-scale contract and hasn’t gotten healthy yet in his career. The distant second-rounder is probably the prize. I somewhat trust the team that had a chance to evaluate Spellman’s approach first-hand all of season. Atlanta also got a replacement developmental center in No. 34 pick Bruno Fernando.

Fernando might even play behind Alex Len and John Collins, who will get minutes at power forward. Center is thin after the Hawks lost Dewayne Dedmon to the Kings.

It’s too soon for the Hawks to concern themselves with that, though. They’re still assembling a young core. It’s OK if every piece is not yet placed.

Meandering around the edges was fine and forgettable. Reddish and Hunter were the important pickups. The big bet this summer was on Hunter, and I just found the cost too steep.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: Rockets signing Tyson Chandler

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In 2009, the Thunder tried to form a point guard-center combo of Russell WestbrookTyson Chandler.

In 2019, the Rockets will make it happen.

After agreeing to trade for Westbrook, Houston will sign Chandler (whose failed physical voided the 2009 Oklahoma City-New Orleans trade).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Chandler will back up Clint Capela. Chandler will probably be an upgrade over Nene, who opted out.

After joining the Lakers last season, Chandler showed he has gas left in the tank. But he’ll turn 37 before the season, so the risk off a steep falloff is real. Still, on limited minutes, he should help Houston.

Kawhi Leonard leaving NBA-champion Raptors would be unlike anything we’ve ever seen

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Many Raptors fans hoped Kawhi Leonard would use yesterday’s championship parade to declare his plan to re-sign with Toronto.

They got a laugh and not much else.

But they can be heartened – or maybe eventually heartbroken –a by this: Stars almost never switched teams immediately following a title.

Before this year, there have been…

  • 49 Finals MVPs who won a championship. None switched teams that offseason.
  • 147 All-Stars who won a championship. None switched teams that offseason.
  • 124 All-NBA players who won a championship. Only one switched teams that offseason.

In 1998, Scottie Pippen got signed-and-traded from the Bulls to the Rockets. He was neither an All-Star nor Finals MVP that year, but he made the All-NBA third team. After leaving Chicago, he never achieved any of those accolades.

Leonard checked all three boxes this season – Finals MVP, All-NBA, All-Star. He looks poised to take over as the NBA’s best player for the next few several years.

It’d be unprecedented for someone like him to bolt.

The most productive player to leave a championship team immediately after winning a title? It might be Tyson Chandler, who posted 9.4 win shares for the 2011 Mavericks then got signed-and-traded to the Knicks.

Even while missing 22 games amid load management and minor injury, Leonard posted 9.5 win shares last season.

Here’s how Leonard compares to the players with the most win shares in a title-winning season who began play elsewhere the following year:

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Of course, Leonard isn’t bound by history. He’ll make his own decision. If he wants to leave the Raptors for the Clippers, Knicks or anyone else, he can.

But players just usually stick with a champion. LeBron James said he might have re-signed with the Heat if they won the 2014 title. Kyrie Irving was unhappy after the Cavaliers’ 2016 championship but didn’t request a trade until they lost in the 2017 NBA Finals. Shaq and Kobe coexisted peacefully enough until the Lakers stopped winning titles.

It’s just hard to leave a team that has proven its ability to win a championship, and Leonard would have that in Toronto.

Igor Kokoskov joins unfortunate ranks of head coaches fired after first NBA season

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Igor Kokoskov worked 18 years as an NBA assistant coach. The Serbia native worked tirelessly to convince teams he was more than just a mentor for European players. Finally, the Suns hired him as their head coach.

“It’s a dream job,” Kokoskov beamed. “And it’s a special day for me.”

Less than a year later, Phoenix fired him.

What a tough business.

The Suns gave Kokoskov a roster ill-equipped to win. They were comically thin at point guard. They had one of the NBA’s least-experienced teams. Even rising star Devin Booker still has significant flaws that inhibit his ability to win. Veterans like Trevor Ariza and Tyson Chandler appeared apathetic in Phoenix.

And now Kokoskov will pay the price for the Suns’ 19-win season.

His time as an NBA head coach is over already, and he might not get another opportunity. Kokoskov is the first coach to get fired after his first season as an NBA head coach since Mike Dunlap with Charlotte in 2013.

Here’s every coach to get fired after only one season, or less, of his first head-coaching job since the NBA-ABA merger. Interim seasons count only if the coach was retained the following year.

Season Tm Coach W L Future jobs
2018-19 PHO Igor Kokoskov 19 63
2012-13 CHA Mike Dunlap 21 61
2010-11 GSW Keith Smart 36 46 SAC
2008-09 DET Michael Curry 39 43
2007-08 CHA Sam Vincent 32 50
2003-04 PHI Randy Ayers 21 31
2003-04 TOR Kevin O’Neill 33 49
2000-01 WAS Leonard Hamilton 19 63
1999-00 WAS Gar Heard 14 30
1999 DEN Mike D’Antoni 14 36 PHO, NYK, LAL, HOU
1997-98 DEN Bill Hanzlik 11 71
1996-97 PHI Johnny Davis 22 60 ORL
1995-96 TOR Brendan Malone 21 61
1993-94 DAL Quinn Buckner 13 69
1992-93 SAS Jerry Tarkanian 9 11
1987-88 PHO John Wetzel 28 54
1983-84 SAS Morris McHone 11 20
1980-81 CLE Bill Musselman 25 46 MIN
1979-80 LAL Jack McKinney 10 4 IND, KCK
1977-78 SEA Bob Hopkins 5 17
1976-77 BUF Tates Locke 16 30

Of the 21 coaches fired in or following their first season as an NBA head coach, only five – Keith Smart, Mike D’Antoni, Johnny Davis, Bill Musselman and Jack McKinney – got another head-coaching job. Kokoskov faces long odds.

At least he got to finish the season. Phoenix had a late 5-2 stretch that included wins over the Bucks and Warriors. That could be a selling point for Kokoskov.

Randy Ayers (2003-04 76ers), Gar Heard (1999-00 Wizards), Jerry Tarkanian (1992-93 Spurs), Morris McHone (1983-84 Spurs), Bill Musselman (1980-81 Cavaliers), Bob Hopkins (1977-78 Seattle SuperSonics) and Tates Locke (1976-77 Buffalo Braves) all got fired during their first seasons as NBA head coaches. Jack McKinney (1979-80 Lakers) lost his job due to a bicycle crash during the season, and Los Angeles officially fired him after the season to keep Paul Westhead, who guided the team to a title in McKinney’s absence.

The Suns weren’t necessarily wrong to fire Kokoskov. Under his watch, they were sloppy and undisciplined and had chemistry problems – areas where the head coach usually gets credit or blame. General manager James Jones deserves a chance to hire his own coach.

Kokoskov might be a good coach. Even if he’s not, he could grow into one.

But he didn’t do enough to secure his job, as tall as that task might have been.

The above list is filled with coaches who had awful records. McKinney is the only one with a winning record, and his situation was complicated by the bike crash. Michael Curry (2008-09 Pistons) is only first-time head coach to take his team to the playoffs and still get fired since the merger, but Detroit had a losing record and got swept in the first round.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate Kokoskov didn’t get a better chance to prove himself. His job security took a major hit when the Suns fired the general manager, Ryan McDonough, who hired Kokoskov before the coach’s first season even began. Kokoskov survived rumors of a potential firing in February, but that was clearly only a stay of execution.

The Suns’ problems go way above the head coach, and Kokoskov’s experience in Phoenix could dissuade potential candidates from replacing him.

But there are only 30 NBA head-coaching jobs. Except for the most-coveted candidates, many coaches would rush to take this job.

As precarious as it can be.