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Could a Carmelo Trade Benefit Bulls and Knicks?

The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls would both benefit from a Carmelo Anthony trade. Here’s a deal that works, and why.

Tommy Beer

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After posting this piece last week, which advocated the New York Knicks making the risky decision to trade their best player, one of the most common responses we received was some variation of: “What could the Knicks realistically hope to get in return for Carmelo Anthony?”

So, today we’ll examine one potential deal that might make sense for both parties involved. (We will also examine a few other possible destinations in a follow-up piece.)

Again, as was detailed in the original story, if the Knicks decide to deal Anthony, they will have to enter trade talks with the full understanding that they’ll likely have to accept far less than market value in return. This is because Anthony holds a player option next summer that will allow him to become a free agent on July 1 and all indications point toward Anthony opting out.

Thus, any team trading for Anthony would be fully aware they may only be renting him for the final few months of this current season. However, if a team does trade for ‘Melo, they would hold a major trump card when it comes time to re-sign him, even if this new city is not necessarily Anthony’s preferred destination. If, after he opts out on July 1, he signs with the team that has his Bird Rights (the team that he was a member of on the final day of this 2013-14 season) he would be eligible to receive a five-year deal worth $129.1 million. If he instead chose to sign with any other team in the NBA, the max that team could offer would be a four-year deal at approximately $95.9 million.

Assuming his new team is willing to offer the full max, would Anthony really be willing to leave $33.2 million and an extra year on the table?

Keep in mind, Anthony will be 30 years old on the day he signs his new pact. He is fully aware this will likely be his final opportunity to cash in on a huge guaranteed contract.

This is a chip the Knicks can use to their advantage in negotiations. A team that trades for ‘Melo, even if they aren’t comfortable offering a maximum deal, can still offer far more (with more guaranteed years) than any other team in the NBA. This greatly increases the chances that Anthony would be a long-term cornerstone as opposed to a three-month rental. This reality could (and should) up New York’s asking price.

Another fact that could increase Anthony’s value is the fact that he is currently playing at an extremely high level. He put on a performance for the ages last Friday night, pouring in a jaw-dropping 62 points, setting an all-time MSG record. Anthony’s star-power, as evidenced by Friday night’s virtuoso performance, is an obvious reason why Knicks management, specifically owner Jim Dolan, would likely have a very hard time trading away Anthony.

However, if we look at the big picture from a basketball perspective, moving ‘Melo is the right decision for the Knicks franchise. Even after winning two straight home games against mediocre opponents, the Knicks are still a dreadful 17-27, 10 games under .500, and 5.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division. No one has ever doubted Anthony’s ability to score, but the question remains: Can the Knicks realistically compete (let alone win) a title over the next five seasons if Anthony accounts for upwards of 40 percent of the Knicks’ salary cap?

One record-setting performance, and a couple wins, doesn’t change the fact that trading Anthony now puts the Knicks in the best situation long-term.

Moreover, the Knicks, as far as we know, have no guarantees from Anthony that he will re-sign with the Knicks this summer, even if New York wants to pay him the max. Anthony’s wife La La recently said that she fully expects him to re-sign with the Knicks, but a that’s hardly enough of a guarantee to bank on. Thus, keeping him past February’s trade deadline is inherently risky.

Safely assuming the Knicks won’t get back equal value in terms of talent, New York’s top priorities in any Anthony trade should be kick-starting the rebuilding process by targeting three commodities in particular:

1) Quality draft picks (as many as possible)
2) Young, promising players locked into affordable contracts
3) Veteran players whose contracts expire by 2015

Per the previous column: New York will shed major salary from their books in July of 2015. The 2014-15 season is the final year on the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani. New York will clear a whopping $49.6 million in salary in one fell swoop. As a result, the Knicks could potentially enter July of 2015 as major players in the free-agent market – when such stars as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Roy Hibbert, DeAndre Jordan, etc. may be up for grabs as unrestricted free agents.

If Anthony is not taking up $24.1 million, New York could be looking upwards of $45 million in cap space, which would allow them to go on quite the shopping spree that summer.

As it stands today, there are only four players that will likely be on the Knicks’ books past the 2014-15 season: Pablo Prigioni ($1.7 million), Tim Hardaway Jr. ($1.3 million), Raymond Felton ($4.5 million player option) and J.R. Smith ($6.4 million player option). There is also a $3.8 million qualifying offer for Iman Shumpert that the Knicks will have to make a decision on. As we now know, the Knicks wouldn’t be opposed to including Shumpert in a trade if the return was right.

It could be argued that the most logical landing spot for Anthony could be Chicago. Over the weekend, Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski revealed that, according to a source, “Chicago is much more in play for him than L.A.” If the Bulls are in fact keen on the idea of luring Anthony to the Windy City, though, a deadline deal would benefit both parties.

So, here’s the question: Would either the Bulls or the Knicks say “no” to this hypothetical deal?

New York sends: Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and $2 million in cash

Chicago sends: Jimmy Butler, Tony Snell, Carlos Boozer, Kirk Hinrich, Chicago’s 2014 first-round draft pick and their 2015 second-round pick.

(Yes, this trade works under the salary cap)

Why it makes sense for the Knicks: New York would jump start their rebuilding process by adding a solid young player in Jimmy Butler, who starred for Chicago in the 2013 postseason. Butler, 24 years old, is set to make just $2.2 million next season, and has a $3.1 million qualifying offer for the 2015-16 season. Although he has been dinged up this season by nagging injuries, Butler has an undeniably bright future in the league. He is a valuable two-way player a team can build around.

Tony Snell, the 20th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft out of New Mexico, is a solid all-around player and profiles as a solid rotation player. He’s a versatile wing off the bench and, just as importantly, he is also locked into a very affordable rookie contract that runs through 2017-18.

Because the Knicks will be well over the cap next year, they would have no issue taking back the additional year left on Carlos Boozer’s contract (whom the Bulls are purportedly considering amnestying this summer anyway). The Knicks would not be able to amnesty Boozer, but they wouldn’t need to. Again, the new focus would be maximizing cap space for 2015, and that’s when Boozer’s deal comes off the books.

The other major benefit to New York in this deal is moving Raymond Felton and the $4.5 million he is set to earn in 2015-16, which lines up with the goal of creating the most cap space in 2015.

The Bulls’ 2014 first-rounder would likely land somewhere in the teens. In a draft as deep and talented as this, this pick would be extremely valuable and could yield a very promising young player.

From the Knicks’ perspective, this deal is obviously not about short-term success. It’s about creating flexibility, adding assets, and re-charting a new course. Once an Anthony trade is completed, the Knicks could then put Tyson Chandler on the open market as well, and should bring back more picks and players (while also possibly being a conduit to dumping J.R. Smith’s 2015-16 salary). An Anthony deal would be just the first, crucial step in a full-scale rebuild. The good news is, if handled correctly, New York could successfully re-shape their entire roster in a relatively short period of time (only about 16 months).

Here’s why it makes sense for Chicago: A starting five of Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Carmelo Anthony, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah would be an awfully intriguing starting unit. Assuming Rose comes relatively healthy, that would be an extremely exciting and dangerous squad.

Shumpert was born and raised outside Chicago, and although he has struggled with inconsistency during his tenure with the Knicks, he has also shown flashes of incredible upside. During the Knicks’ second-round defeat to the Indiana Pacers in last year’s postseason, Shumpert was arguably the Knicks’ second-best all-around player. Could a homecoming to Chicago revive his career and increase the chances he reaches his immense potential?

Felton would serve as insurance for Rose, in case the former MVP has any hiccups in his return from injury. And once Rose is back and completely healthy, Felton would be a solid back-up point guard, and could also, at times, play alongside Rose in the same backcourt. Chicago would also still have Mike Dunleavy to bring off the bench as well.

As far as the first-round pick is concerned, the Bulls could have as many as three picks in the loaded 2014 draft. Chicago will own the Bobcats’ pick if Charlotte doesn’t finish the season with one of the 10 worst records in the NBA. The Sacramento Kings also owe a first-round pick to the Bulls, but that pick is protected for selections one through 12. It is safe to assume the Kings won’t have to convey that pick this year. However, the Bobcats would qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today, so there is a decent chance that the Bulls will end up with Charlotte’s first rounder. Moreover, the Bulls currently don’t owe a single pick (first or second round) to any team through 2019. Thus, they obviously have the necessary picks in their pocket to sweeten a potential deal with New York.

Letting go of Butler would be a bitter pill to swallow, but, thinking ahead, if the Bulls inked Melo to a massive contract, they likely would be unable to match offers for Butler once he became a restricted free agent. When viewed through that prism, it makes losing Butler much more palatable.

Of course, the big unknown here is whether or not the Chicago front office believes Anthony would be worth the immense salary he’d request. The Bulls have previously intimated they would prefer to be south of the luxury tax and avoid the repeater tax at all costs. But would the formation of a new ‘Big Three’ of Rose, Anthony and Noah in Chicago be enough for them to invest heavily in Anthony? ‘Melo has shown a preference for big cities, and Chicago is one of the biggest markets in the country. Either way, the Bulls would have his Bird Rights, and would consequently be able to pay more him than any other NBA team.

Might Anthony to Chicago be an ideal fit for everybody?

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups

With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.

Matt John

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The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.

Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.

Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…

We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.

The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.

Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.

Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.

Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.

While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.

Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.

This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.

Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.

Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…

Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.

It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.

Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.

With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.

Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.

But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.

Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.

The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.

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