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Kemba Walker gets super-max eligibility with All-NBA voting; Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson miss out

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Super-max contracts have made All-NBA teams incredibly important.

This year’s selections (first-team votes, second-team votes, third-team votes and voting points in parentheses):

First team

G: James Harden, HOU (100-0-0-500)

G: Stephen Curry, GSW (91-9-0-482)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (100-0-0-500)

F: Paul George, OKC (71-25-3-433)

C: Nikola Jokic, DEN (59-38-2-411)

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, POR (8-87-5-306)

G: Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-52-39-195)

F: Kevin Durant, GSW (29-71-0-358)

F: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (0-73-23-242)

C: Joel Embiid, PHI (40-57-4-375)

Third team

G: Russell Westbrook, OKC (1-43-44-178)

G: Kemba Walker, CHA (0-4-39-51)

F: Blake Griffin, DET (0-13-76-115)

F: LeBron James, LAL (0-13-72-111)

C: Rudy Gobert, UTA (1-5-69-89)

Also receiving votes: Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-31-34); Klay Thompson, GSW (0-3-18-27); Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN (0-0-20-20); LaMarcus Aldridge, SAS (0-2-11-17); Danilo Gallinari, LAC (0-1-4-7); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-0-7-7); Mike Conley, MEM (0-0-4-4); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-0-4-4); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-0-4-4); Nikola Vucevic, ORL (0-0-4-4); Dwyane Wade, MIA (0-1-0-3); Luka Doncic, DAL (0-1-0-3); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-0-3); DeMar DeRozan, SAS (0-0-3-3); D’Angelo Russell, BRK (0-0-3-3); Tobias Harris, PHI (0-0-2-2); Devin Booker, PHO (0-0-1-1); Eric Gordon, HOU (0-0-1-1); Jrue Holiday, NOP (0-0-1-1); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-0-1-1); Lou Williams, LAC (0-0-1-1); Marvin Bagley III, SAC (0-0-1-1); Domantas Sabonis, IND (0-0-1-1); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-0-1-1); Myles Turner, IND (0-0-1-1)

The fallout:

  • Kemba Walker is now eligible for a five-year super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million over five years. Will the Hornets offer it? Would he accept it? Difficult decisions for both sides as he enters free agency this summer.
  • The Wizards dodged a bullet with Bradley Beal placing a fairly distant seventh among guards for three All-NBA spots. A super-max extension for him would have been too large a commitment right now, and not offering it threatened to alienate him. Forces would have been pushing toward a trade. Now, Washington’s options with Beal – who has two years left on his contract – are wide open. If he continues to play well and earns All-NBA in a future season, the Wizards could justify giving him the super-max then.
  • Likewise, the Warriors avoid their payroll skyrocketing as far into the stratosphere. Klay Thompson didn’t make All-NBA and therefore his max contract is capped at five years, projected $190 million. Considering he seems so happy in Golden State, the extra spending power of the super-max likely would have only cost the Warriors money without actually making Thompson more likely to stay.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns missed his last chance to trigger the super-max in his rookie scale extension, which will pay him a projected $158 million over the next five seasons. He would have earned about $32 million more with an All-NBA selection. The Timberwolves now have Towns secured at the lower amount. They surely hope the sense of urgency he showed late this season persists.
  • Damian Lillard has clinched eligibility to sign a super-max extension this offseason (four years, projected $193 million) or the 2020 offseason (five years, projected $250 million). He’ll reportedly ink the deal this summer with the Trail Blazers.
  • Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible in the 2020 offseason for a super-max extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years. He’ll probably sign it. But until he does, all eyes will be on him.
  • Anthony Davis can this offseason sign a five-year, super-max extension projected to be worth $235 million with the Pelicans. He doesn’t want to. David Griffin has made noise about keeping Davis into 2020 free agency. But because he missed All-NBA this season, Davis isn’t guaranteed to be super-max-eligible then. He’d have to make All-NBA next season. So, New Orleans would have less of an upper hand in re-signing him – which makes a risky strategy even riskier.
  • The actual All-NBA teams look good to me. I would have picked Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday over Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker, but it was close. I have no significant complaints about the players chosen.
  • On the other hand, some of the stray votes: Dwyane Wade (second team!),  Eric Gordon, Domantas Sabonis, Marvin Bagley III. Wow.

Report: Chris Paul, James Harden argued about Rockets’ offensive style

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Remember all the concern about how James Harden and Chris Paul, two ball-dominant guards, would fit together with the Rockets?

They quickly put that to rest. Harden and Paul meshed nearly seamlessly last season, their first together. In hindsight, apprehension about the pairing seemed silly.

But as Houston has increasingly slowed the pace and isolated – usually with Harden – since acquiring Paul, maybe there has been tension.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

There was something of a clash of styles brewing throughout the Rockets season, with members of the team — most notably Paul — having spirited discussions with Mike D’Antoni about the offense and pushing for more movement, league sources told The Athletic.

Harden and Paul had tense moments with one another throughout Game 6, culminating in a verbal back-and-forth postgame that went into the locker room, sources with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic. Sources said the verbal exchange between Harden and Paul was regarding the ball distribution throughout Game 6. By the time the remainder of the locker room was ready to talk, Paul and Harden had gone their separate ways, with Paul swiftly making his way to the postgame podium.

The Rockets’ offensive style generally works well. They led the league in points per possession last season and ranked second this year.

Their scoring slipped in the playoffs, but that’s also when defenses tighten. As I’ve written before:

The biggest reasons the Rockets lost the Warriors in their second-round series:

1. Golden State is an all-time great team.

2. Houston depleted its roster through spending cuts.

Nothing else is even close.

Can the Rockets’ offense become more effective? Maybe. Harden is an elite isolation scorer, but when he pounds the ball all possession, it’s harder for his teammates to get into rhythm.

When one of those teammates is a player as good as Paul, it probably makes sense to incorporate him more. As great as it’d be if this didn’t matter, players getting more touches also usually leads to more defensive engagement.

But don’t discount the advantages of Houston’s iso-heavy style. It cuts down on turnovers and better positions players to get back on defense.

Generally, I believe altering Houston’s offensive style would make only small gains at most. A system change also carries big downside risk from an offense that’s already flourishing.

Instead of pointing fingers at each other, the Rockets’ players and coaches should look toward owner Tilman Fertitta. His reluctance to pay the luxury tax matters far more than Houston’s offensive style.

The Rockets’ defense was their major shortcoming. Better personnel would help. More depth would help, as top players could rest more and defend harder when on the floor.

But those things are expensive, and Fertitta hasn’t paid up.

Report: Rockets, Mike D’Antoni talking contract extension

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Mike D’Antoni, the father of the seven seconds or less system that started a revolution of NBA style, has changed in recent years. In Houston, with James Harden at his peak and this specific roster around him, D’Antoni now coaches an isolation-heavy team that has pushed the NBA envelope in other ways, particularly in trusting the three ball.

D’Antoni fits with Daryl Morey, and the sides have started talking contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni have had preliminary discussions about the framework of a contract extension that would keep the two-time NBA Coach of the Year from entering the final year of his deal…

“I’ve let [general manager] Daryl [Morey] and [team owner] Tilman [Fertitta] know that I’m energized to keep coaching — and believe that I can continue to do this at a high level for at least another three years,” D’Antoni, 68, told ESPN on Sunday night.

“I want to be a part of a championship here.”

This is the smart move, he is a part of what has made the Rockets such a success in recent years.

The Rockets should look for roster upgrades this summer but they should not be blowing things up. The Rockets were the second best team in the NBA last season and may have been again by the playoffs this season (it depends on where you want to put Milwaukee and Toronto in that ranking, but the Rockets were in the mix). Houston’s problem has been a historic dynasty in Golden State, but that could look very different next season. If the Warriors take a step or two back, for whatever reasons, Houston is poised to pounce. They will be contenders.

D’Antoni is a part of that, and the Rockets need to keep one of the best coaches in the game in house.

Rockets will not bring defensive coach Jeff Bzdelik back next season

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Before the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 112.2 (points allowed per 100 possessions), 25th in the NBA.

After the All-Star break, the Rockets had a defensive rating of 105.3, second best in the NBA. In the playoffs, the Rockets had a 107.3 defensive rating despite six games against the Warriors.

There are multiple reasons for that change, but a key one: The Rockets backed up the Brinks truck and brought assistant coach and defensive specialist Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement to help fix the problems.

Bzdelik will not be back with the team next season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Technically Bzdelik was fired, although that is not an accurate description of really what happened here. This was not because of poor job performance, it was a question of if he really wanted to be there, and the Rockets wanted someone all-in. Understandably. This is a Houston team still on the cusp of a title, just one that has run headlong into the Warriors dynasty in recent years. A dynasty that likely will look a lot different next year, opening the door in the West. The Rockets want to push through that door.

That said, replacing Bzdelik will not be easy.

It’s one of a number of challenging choices for the Rockets this summer.

Tilman Fertitta calls Rockets dodging luxury tax ‘fluke’ and ‘accident’, reportedly approves paying next year

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The biggest reasons the Rockets lost the Warriors in their second-round series:

1. Golden State is an all-time great team.

2. Houston depleted its roster through spending cuts.

Nothing else is even close. Neither Chris Paul nor Clint Capela had a great series. But the Rockets generally played about as well as expected entering the matchup.

That was the problem.

While still excellent, the Warriors looked more primed to get upset than last year, when Houston pushed them to seven games. But the Rockets lowered their own roster quality.

They started in the offseason, letting Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute walk for bigger contracts. Both players wound up overpaid for their production. But Houston didn’t have the cap flexibility to get anyone nearly as good as Ariza. Though Mbah a Moute had a lost season with the Clippers due to injury, the Rockets wanted to keep him. They just deemed him too expensive.

Later in the summer and closer to the trade deadline, Houston made more moves to escape the luxury tax entirely. Those trades cost the Rockets a first-rounder, two second-rounders, a couple second-round pick swaps, James Ennis and De'Anthony Melton. Houston could have used Ennis, who had a nice postseason for the 76ers. All those picks and Melton could have been used to acquire a far better player than Iman Shumpert if trimming costs weren’t the priority.

Yet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is – once again – trying to play everyone for suckers.

Fertitta, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“Last year (getting under the luxury tax) was a fluke,” Fertitta said. “We were going to be in the (tax). It was an accident. I’m still trying to figure out how we got under. I was positive we were going to be in it by $11 million. But if I’m in the luxury tax, I expect us to win.

Feigen:

general manager Daryl Morey has already been given a green light to pay the tax, a person with knowledge of the team’s planning said.

If I were Morey, I’d be livid. All general managers must work within the constraints set by team owners, but this goes way beyond. Either Fertitta is lying or Morey is a terrible general manager. Morey’s moves in the last year were indefensible – unless he had a mandate to dodge the tax, in which case they were sadly shrewd.

I don’t believe Morey is a terrible general manager.

I’ll also believe the Rockets will pay the luxury tax next season only when I see it.

Fertitta made a big show about how upset he was with Houston losing to Golden State, which was rich considering his spending limitations were a prime culprit. Maybe the experience motivated Fertitta into spending more in the future. But James Harden and Chris Paul will never have this season back, and especially Paul is at an age where further decline should be expected.

The Rockets also have all their top players already signed. Houston could spend into the tax, but salary-cap rules will inhibit the major spending that was possible last summer. So, this is a much safer proclamation from Fertitta this time.

We’ll see whether he lives up to even that.