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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 10/4

Basketball Insiders looks at some articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Pelicans Set to Soar Out West

By Moke Hamilton

He seemed comfortable enough. He answered the questions that were being asked of him with a candor that seemed so sincere. He smiled frequently, chuckled often and frowned not once.

With a simple, black crew neck sweater, Anthony Davis fielded questions from all around, but today, he fields the biggest of them all.

What’s next for the New Orleans Pelicans—his team?

Yes, he seemed quite comfortable in New York City. Davis was making his second consecutive All-Star appearance and had already endured a grueling availability schedule that had him a bit exhausted. But he took it all in stride.

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50 NBA Predictions for 2015-16 (Part 1)

By Joel Brigham

Every year I put together 50 predictions for the season to come, which is really my lone opportunity in a given 12-month period to write something in the first person. These are insanely fun to do until the actual season starts and everything that I thought was going to happen ends up not happening. Actually, truth be told, while I usually only get about half of these right, a lot of the ones that I do miss end up pretty close.

The good news is that whether I nail them or bomb them, I’ll come back to these predictions in the spring to hold myself accountable for what I foolishly thought would happen this season. Right or wrong, we’re all pleased as punch that actual games are just around the corner, which is a perfect time to run these through.

Here’s a look at the first half of my 50 predictions for the 2015-16 NBA season.

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Suns and Morris Trying to Make It Work

By Steve Kyler

The Phoenix Suns opened training camp yesterday with their annual media day. As expected, vocally disgruntled forward Markieff Morris was not only in attendance, but he did his best to defuse the dispute that played out in the media over the summer after the Suns traded away his twin brother, Marcus, to the Detroit Pistons.

Phoenix had said that they were not going to entertain trading Morris, despite his claims that he was finished with the organization. Suns brass felt that once they got Morris into camp and could talk with him and have him around his teammates, things could be turned around and smoothed over.

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Donovan Not Interested in Changing Durant, Westbrook

By Susan Bible

There is a discernible buzz right now in Oklahoma City, and the reason is clear: The Thunder’s 2015-16 NBA season is about to start and the team looks like a legitimate title contender. The Thunder organization, as well as its supporters, are ready to erase the memory of last season and the ridiculous amount of injuries that occurred, and now simply focus on the return of their elite basketball team.

With the deepest-ever Thunder roster in place and all players returning healthy – including, most importantly, former league MVP Kevin Durant – championship expectations have never been higher.

Journalists gathered at the Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday for the team’s media day. One by one, players paraded in to face the media’s onslaught of questions about last year, the offseason and what to expect this season.

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Magic Counting on Young Core to Lead Playoff Push

By Cody Taylor

By now, every NBA team has hosted their media day. The annual event signals the beginning of a new NBA season, as training camps typically kick off the following day.

The day gives fans a first look at the new players their teams acquired over the summer. Players also discuss how their offseason went and what they worked on during the summer. Above all, the day hypes up fans for the upcoming season.

For Orlando Magic fans, media day brought plenty of excitement and optimism. It’s perhaps the first season in the post-Dwight-Howard era in which the Magic feel they can legitimately compete in the Eastern Conference. Listening to players talk on Friday inside the Amway Center, the feeling is that these guys expect to compete this season. Nearly every player who spoke to the media mentioned the playoffs in some capacity.

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The Case for Keeping Markieff Morris

By Eric Saar

The Markieff Morris situation in Phoenix is pretty unique.

Markieff and his twin, Marcus, both signed four-year contract extensions to remain with the Suns exactly one year ago yesterday. They decided to sign for less money so they could remain teammates in Phoenix. Not only was this scenario unique because the twins decided to take less to stick together, but also because Suns management let them decide how they wanted to split the $52 million that they had allocated for them. It was an interesting idea and, at the end of the day, Markieff received $32 million while Marcus got $20 million. Those were considered bargain contracts at the time, especially for Markieff, and the deals look even better today compared to some of the monster contracts handed out this offseason since teams know the NBA’s salary cap will increase significantly next year.

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Tiago Splitter’s Fresh Start In Atlanta

By Lang Greene

It may be hard to fathom on the surface, but veteran center Tiago Splitter could play a pivotal role for two franchises this season in their respective quests to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy next June.

The San Antonio Spurs shipped Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks at the beginning of free agency. Without the deal, the Spurs wouldn’t have been able to re-sign forward Danny Green and offer a max contract to All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency.

The Hawks, an undersized unit that finished 28th in the league in rebounding last season, had the salary cap space to absorb Splitter’s $8.5 million salary for the upcoming campaign and desperately needed more size on the low block.

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John Wall Talks MVP Goal, Pitching Kevin Durant, More

By Alex Kennedy

In recent years, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall has solidified himself as one of the best floor generals in the NBA. Last season, Wall averaged 17.6 points, 10 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 44.5 percent from the field. He ranked second in the NBA in assists per game (10) and total assists (792), trailing only Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Wall and Paul each recorded 40 double-doubles last year, which led all guards.

Wall put up these impressive numbers despite being hobbled by various injuries (including sprains in both ankles, a shoulder sprain, a sore Achilles and debilitating migraines) throughout the year. However, the two-time All-Star toughed it out, playing the sixth-most minutes of any player in the NBA (2,837) while leading the Wizards to a 46-36 record and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

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Little Giants: Utah’s Big/Small Conundrum

By Ben Dowsett

In a league that seems to get smaller and more spaced out by the week in recent seasons, the Utah Jazz appear to be heading in the opposite direction. Their primary identity only got bigger last season when Rudy Gobert left the bench, bringing the starting frontcourt (Gobert, Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward) to an average height of over 6’10. One piece is down for the season in Dante Exum, but with Alec Burks and Rodney Hood battling for the bulk of the shooting guard minutes, the Jazz are set to head into their core’s prime featuring a starting unit without a single guy under 6’6.

This alone doesn’t prohibit Utah from changing with the times, but their relative lack of spacing across the lineup has presented roadblocks and will continue to do so. Exum was a non-threat as a shooter in his rookie season, and his in-house replacements this year either have a track record as sub-par shooters at the professional level (Trey Burke, Raul Neto) or so many other question marks that it’s unclear if they’ll see the floor consistently (Bryce Cotton). Gobert is doubtful to ever be a threat outside of the paint, and Favors only became a reliable mid-range shooter last season. Things could tighten up quickly in Salt Lake City.

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Lee Brings Veteran Leadership to Celtics

By Jessica Camerato

There is no lack of depth on the Boston Celtics. They have logjams at several positions and are stacked with young talent. However, what there is not an overabundance of is veteran leadership.

Not including those signed to the training camp roster, the average age on the Celtics is 24 years old, the same as the team’s most tenured player, Avery Bradley. There’s a combined five rookies and sophomores on the roster.

This offseason, the team traded its oldest player, Gerald Wallace, to the Golden State Warriors for another 32-year-old: David Lee. The 11-year veteran is the only member of the Celtics who is over 30 and just one of three players who were in the league when the Celtics won the title in 2008.

 

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Is Thompson Worth a Max Contract?

By Jesse Blancarte

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson have been unable to reach terms on a new contract this offseason and with the 2015-16 season right around the corner, the situation is intensifying. Thompson and agent Rich Paul took a big gamble earlier this week by allowing the deadline to pass on accepting the Cavaliers’ one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer. With the preseason underway and no contract signed between Thompson and the Cavs, the question of whether Thompson is worth the contract he is demanding is more relevant than ever.

Context is everything and determining what annual salary Thompson is worth is a bit complicated. First, by allowing the deadline to accept the qualifying offer to pass, Thompson and his agent sacrificed significant leverage. Now, Thompson does not have the option of playing on a one-year deal and entering next season’s free agency pool as an unrestricted free agent. Instead, if Thompson remains unsigned through March 1, he will still be a restricted free agent next offseason, which means that even if he receives a max-level offer sheet from another team, Cleveland can still match the offer and retain his services (while Thompson misses out on a full season of salary).

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How Will Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis Co-Exist?

By Tommy Beer

According to rumors that ran rampant in the days and weeks after the draft, it appeared that the relationship between the New York Knicks’ two most important players would get off to a rough start. Published reports indicated that the Carmelo Anthony was unhappy with the moves his team had made, including the decision to draft a highly touted, but unproven, seven-footer from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis.

Anthony is the undisputed face of the Knicks franchise. He has been since the day he arrived in New York. Phil Jackson made sure that would remain the case when he signed Anthony to a massive $124 million contract last summer. Jackson and Anthony were hoping that the Knicks would be able to rebuild the organization around ‘Melo while still putting a competitive product on the floor.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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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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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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