Who Is In And Who Is Out?: The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline is in just 15 days and while the chatter about trades is going to come up several notches as teams kick the tires on what’s possible, there are a few teams that are posturing for a move and likely will make one, while there are few others that still remain on the fence about change.
There is one thing to keep in mind about this deadline, which unlike most has more draft day ties than usual. A large number of teams are looking at their tradable assets as not only bait to make moves now, but possibly the leverage they’ll need to move around on draft day in June.
Here are some of the teams posturing for a move and some of the teams still on the fence:
On The Move
Phoenix: The Suns made headlines with their play for Lakers forward Gasol, but like most trades that get to the press before the deadline this thing was really sort of dead before it started. The Suns are shopping the ending, insurance-paid contract of Emeka Okafor and one of their late first round draft picks. They are not looking for anything silly, but they do have eyes for an ending contract player that could add something to their playoff push. Gasol was a swing for the fences idea for the Suns hoping the Lakers would relent. Like all deals they are never completely dead until the clock strikes midnight, but the Suns have moved on to other ideas and have been aggressive in trying to find a taker for what amounts to an almost free ending contract. The challenge for the Suns is the kind of players teams would be willing to move for Okafor’s contract have years left on them and that does not seem to be what Phoenix is looking for today. Again, the asking price on a deal 15 days before the deadline can often be very different as the clock ticks away on the trade window. Look for Phoenix to trigger a deal. They have a very tradable asset and with a draft pick in the mix someone is going to bite, it just may not be as big of a name as Gasol.
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Philadelphia: Maybe Sixers General manager Sam Hinkie learned this while he was in Houston, but the Sixers have had a toe (or half a foot) in the trade waters all season long. The names are pretty clear – guard Evan Turner, forward Thaddeus Young and big man Spencer Hawes. The problem is much like Houston has done historically, the asking price for the 76ers’ pieces is really high. Unprotected draft picks and rookie scale players are hard to extract when the league knows you need to sell. The 76ers are one of the teams that is looking to trigger something around the deadline and they could move all three of the players they have been fielding offers on. Turner seems to be drawing considerable interest from the Charlotte Bobcats, and Young has been a target of the Rockets’ all year. As the clock becomes Philly’s enemy they may relent on their asking price so you can expect that they’re going to do something. They simply have too many reasons to make a deal, especially if they can swap out talent and contracts that are in tune with their long-term plan.
Charlotte: The Charlotte Bobcats are somewhat aggressive in kicking the tires. They like Philadelphia’s Evan Turner and they have been kicking around the Detroit Pistons on Greg Monroe. Charlotte is owed a couple of draft picks – one from the Portland Trail Blazers that they look poised to get this year and a Detroit Pistons’ pick that is top eight protected this year. Their own draft pick looks to be headed to Chicago if the ‘Cats make the playoffs and they are angling for a trade to do just that. The Bobcats are also shopping the ending contract of Ben Gordon and there has been talk that they would toss in Bismack Biyombo for the right kind of upgrade, although that might not be much of an inducement. The Bobcats also have the ending contract of Ramon Sessions, who has really struggled to shoot the ball this season. The ‘Cats are in the market. They do have trade chips they are willing to move. The Bobcats as a team are wanting to make a deal, the question is what will they get back for what they appear to be offering in trade?
Cleveland: The Cavaliers are open for business. The two names mentioned most around the league are second year guard Dion Waiters and veteran forward Alonzo Gee. Waiters and lead guard Kyrie Irving has not meshed well together and the Cavs seem to be accepting that moving Waiters has to happen. The Cavs could hold the line if the offers don’t improve and try to move Waiters around the draft or in free agency, but if they can make a move that returns a good asset they seem open to it. Gee has fallen out of the rotation since the arrival of Luol Deng and with his contract in essence being an ending deal as the final year is not guaranteed. He seems like he’ll be tossed in to clear out the log jam and to try and up the overall value of a deal to return a better veteran. There is of course is the annual Anderson Varejao watch. The Cavs have been reluctant to include him in trade talks, but sources around the situation say the massive dysfunction in Cleveland has them listening to a lot of things they normally wouldn’t. The Cavs look like they are sellers, the question is do they get a deal in at the deadline or does business get pushed off to the draft. Current management may not survive a non-playoff berth, so there is at least some perceived urgency to get something done in Cleveland.
Houston: The Houston Rockets haven’t stopped shopping for change. The problem is the chips they would move – Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – won’t return what Houston is looking for: better talent. There continues to be talk that a number of teams like the talent of Asik, but just can’t get their ownership on board with paying his massive balloon payment next season and give up a quality asset as part of the deal. It seems the combination of cost in salary and cost in talent is more than some teams will consider. When you start pulling teams off the board and the field gets smaller, it’s much harder to make a deal that improves the roster. One league source said the Rockets could move Asik tomorrow, but they wouldn’t get much for him. There has been some talk that Francisco Garcia and Donatas Motiejunas could be had at the deadline but combined those two players represent $2.687 million in outgoing salary, that’s hardly enough salary cash to pry lose an impact point guard or an impact power forward. The Rockets seem like they want to make a deal and historically they have been traders at the deadline, so we’ll see if the league’s stance on Asik or Lin changes as the clock ticks to the deadline.
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Milwaukee: The Bucks are definitely open for business. Almost anything outside of Giannis Antetokounmpo or John Henson is going to get consideration. The Bucks have been as active as almost anyone in gauging what’s out there. They haven’t really gotten to the offering point on anything, but it does seem like they are going to do something at the deadline. Point guard has been mentioned as a need the Bucks are trying to fill for the long-term and the Bucks could be one of the teams on the move for Dion Waiters; although there continues to be talk that the Milwaukee is steering clear of “bad attitude” players, which might red-flag Waiters. There has been talk all season that Houston has eyes for forward Ersan Ilyasova. His numbers on the season have been less than stellar and he is owed a ton of money. It’s unclear if the Bucks would take on one of Houston’s ugly “cash” contracts in order to get out from under Ilyasova but that’s the one to really watch. Milwaukee seems open for business, it remains to be seen how much of the current roster they’d sell.
Sacramento: The Kings continue to be active in trade talks. The two most mentioned names are guards Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette. Combined they become an interesting salary cap value that could return a major salary player. The problem is there does not seem to be a whole lot of interest in either player. The Kings have been linked to Denver in an Andre Miller-Jimmer Fredette swap and that may still go down as Denver gets closer to the deadline. The Kings already triggered a major move to get forward Rudy Gay from Toronto and it seems that they are continuing to try and add meaningful players to the roster. The Kings have no shortage of interesting trade chips, the question is what can they truly get done at the deadline.
New Orleans: The Pelicans continue to get hammered with injuries and as much as the team tries to recover they just keep taking steps backwards. The Pelicans are what’s best described as value shoppers. They are open to trades involving core players like Eric Gordon or even Tyreke Evans – if they returned upgrades. That is a tough sell given what both players are making. The Pelicans look like they are going to trade guard Austin Rivers at the deadline, sources close to the situation believe there has been agreement in place all season to move him if playing time and opportunity did not become available. Rivers has seen his minutes increase over the last 14 games, which might be showcasing him for a deal. The Pelicans usually play trades close to the vest, but their posture is one of a team willing to listen to trades and the fact that they have so many duplicated pieces they might be a dark horse to make a splashy move.
On The Fence
Toronto: The Raptors have not stopped listening to offers. In fact, some say they are fielding more calls than normal for a team sitting in the third spot in the East. There continues to be a sense that Toronto would move guard Kyle Lowry, simply because of the risk of losing him to free agency in July. However, sources close to the Raptors say they are simply doing their due diligence and that moving anyone at this point would be all about getting swept away with an offer. The Raptors have all kind of attractive trade chips, but it does seem with the team pointed in the right direction that Toronto may sit out the deadline and let this roster play itself out. Unlike most playoff teams, Toronto is not out of the trade game, they just don’t seem like they are ready to commit to a trade just yet.
Detroit: If you can figure the Detroit Pistons out, bravo. If there is a team in the East that needs to make a roster-changing trade it’s Detroit, but more and more teams are saying Detroit is holding the line. The Pistons have several ending contracts that have value – most notably Rodney Stuckey. They have a pending restricted free agent in Greg Monroe that could return real value and the Pistons seem to be sitting this one out. Several teams have called only to find Detroit reluctant to engage. That could clearly change over the next 15 days, especially as the finality of the deadline approaches, but as much as the Pistons need to make a deal they seem the most unwilling to entertain one.
Dallas: The Mavericks are historically active at the deadline, however this year there’s just not a lot linked to Dallas. There is a clear need for some frontcourt help. They could also use another impact scorer from the bench, but even with needs and ending contracts that could be swapped to fill them, the Mavs don’t seem to be players. The Mavericks have a reputation for shaking every tree in the league so maybe that happens after the All-Star break, but Dallas does not seem as interested in change as they have been in years past.
Orlando: The Magic are like the pretty girl at the dance. Everyone is calling, but not much is happening. The Magic played the J.J. Redick situation almost exactly like this a year ago, rebuffing calls on their players that clearly do not fit in the long-term. The Magic could and likely will change course as the deadline and the offers get real, but don’t be surprised if Orlando sits out the trade deadline and makes their moves around the draft to jockey for better position or to swap veterans for better fitting rookie scale players. Magic guard Arron Afflalo is the top incoming request; however, it seems unless moving Afflalo yields another lottery pick or a means to thin out the roster, the Magic may pass. Admittedly that was Orlando’s move with Redick, and they ultimately made a trade so don’t count Orlando out. They are just squarely on the fence about making a trade.
Washington: The Washington Wizards would like to make a trade. In fact sources close to the situation peg Washington as the top suitor for Detroit’s Greg Monroe. The problem is they can’t get any traction. The Wizards have trade chips. They have the ending contract of Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat. Rookie Otto Porter has been mentioned more than once as has second year guard Brad Beal. Not necessarily because Washington wants to move them, but because they are trying to shake loose a real trade. They just are not getting there. As the deadline approaches they might find a dance partner, but the sense is that Washington is only going to do a deal that cements them in the playoffs as a contender and they are unwilling to shake up a team sitting in the fifth spot in the East just for change’s sake, a trade has to make them better today and going forward and it seems they are open to moving ending contracts and maybe a young player to lock themselves in.
LA Lakers: Ahh, The Lakers. Are we ready to stop jumping at every Pau Gasol rumor yet? The Lakers have arrived at the point we knew they’d get to. They have to trade Gasol for something; the problem is they simply want too much in return for a player making $19 million. If the Lakers would take back contract money they’d get a lot more value out of Gasol than the rumored deal for Emeka Okafor and a late first round pick they were offered by Phoenix. The fact that Gasol is going to miss even more time to nagging injuries only impacts the return the Lakers can extract for him. Internally the message has been pretty consistent – Gasol gets moved if it returns future value and no long term contract money. That deal is going to be really hard to pull off for the Lakers. Don’t rule the Lakers out of the trade market. The writing on the wall says they are going to do something with Gasol, the question becomes what do they ultimately settle for and when you settle in trades those usually happen at the last minute. That could always change, but with Gasol hobbled, the Lakers are holding firm on flexibly this summer and wanting solid draft picks in a deal, they may not find that in the next 15 days.
There will obviously be a lot of trade chatter as we march to the trade deadline, make sure you are checking The Latest NBA News section of the site, we’ll keep you posted on everything going on, especially around rumors and roster moves.
Keeping The Noise Out: Kansas big man Joel Embiid could be the top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. His draft stock has soared all season and with that has come an unbelievable amount of pressure for a decision on his future.
Embiid is still very new to basketball, the world of money and power brokers that surround it. Kansas head coach Bill Self has tried to shield his big man and has tried to keep him as insulated as possible. However, it’s become almost a daily question in Embiid’s life – will he be one-and-done and head to the NBA?
Embiid was asked again last night about his mindset on the NBA, and again he played the same cards he’s been playing regarding this topic.
“I’m not even thinking about it right now,” Embiid said to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “I’ll make a decision after the season, but I’m definitely considering coming back to school.”
»In Related: The latest full 2014 NBA Mock Draft
The prevailing thought from Embiid is that he’s not sure he’s ready for the NBA and the pressures of being a top overall pick candidate.
Embiid is from Cameroon and has been playing organized basketball for just three years. While he’s displayed a lot of athleticism and progress at Kansas, there is still a lot of learning that Embiid needs and it seems he understands that.
Given how brutal things have gone for Anthony Bennett, this year’s top overall pick, its not hard to understand why Embiid, who may be more of a project in his rookie year than most, might be fearful of the big stage of the NBA.
Embiid has said a few times that it will be hard for him to pass on the guaranteed money being a high level draft pick will mean for him and his family, but that staying in school of another year is very possible in his mind.
We have seen this before. Chicago’s Joakim Noah opted for another year at Florida and a chance at a second national championship despite rumors he could have gone number one overall in 2006. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart passed on a possible top three selection this past year in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The problem with buying into the “I’m going to stay” quotes that surface around all of the top college players is that for the most part they are designed to end the questions every day. Embiid can’t declare for the draft today even if he wanted to and he really is not supposed to have contact with NBA teams or agents that could really inform him of his options.
There is no doubting that Embiid is a little overwhelmed by how big his world has gotten in just a few months of stellar play. It’s easy to understand why he’d want to consider staying in a safe and secure environment like Kansas, especially for a kid that has craved coaching and hard work. When you factor in how new all of this is to him, the doubts about being ready should be natural responses.
The truth however is that going number overall is a rare. The financial windfall Embiid can provide to his family is going to be more than the contract money he earns from his future NBA teams; it’s going to be the endorsement possibility and additional money that comes from being the top pick.
Will the kid from Cameroon that wasn’t on the NBA radar as a top prospect four month ago really turn down what could be $30-$40 million in guaranteed money for another year at Kansas?
He might, but it’s extremely unlikely.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.