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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 7/12

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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The Otto Porter Opportunity

By Moke Hamilton

With DeAndre Jordan and LaMarcus Aldridge leaving their respective teams and taking their talents to the State of Texas, it is easy to see how the Washington Wizards have been overlooked.

Paul Pierce, a future Hall-of-Famer whose personality evidently became a part of the locker room last season, decided to do like the aforementioned two and return to his home state to presumably play out the remainder of his career. So yes, between the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers, it was easy to overlook the fact that the Wizards may have snuck up on everyone and quietly improved themselves just as much as any other Eastern Conference team.

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Q&A: Kyle O’Quinn Excited to Join New York Knicks

By Alex Kennedy

On Saturday, the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic agreed to a sign-and-trade deal that will send big man Kyle O’Quinn to New York in exchange for cash and a future second-round pick. The three-year NBA veteran has agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with the Knicks. O’Quinn was born in Jamaica, New York and attended high school in Queens. In the games that O’Quinn started at center for the Magic during the 2014-15 season, he averaged 12.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and a block.

Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy caught up with O’Quinn to talk about playing for his hometown team, his expectations for next season and what Knicks fans can expect from him.

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Orlando is Turning the Corner

By Lang Greene

As recently as 2012, the Orlando Magic were considered a team on the rise. The franchise was routinely booking 50 win campaigns and had even reached the NBA Finals back in 2009. However, Dwight Howard, the team’s franchise player during this time period, was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers before the start of the 2013 season.

Not surprisingly the team won just 20 games in their first season without Howard roaming the paint and have only posted 48 victories combined the last two campaigns.

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Give Stanley Johnson Some Respect

By Joel Brigham

When Stanley Johnson was drafted eighth overall in June’s draft, some considered it a bit of a surprise considering Justise Winslow was still on the board. However, that showed just how confident Detroit is in Johnson as a pro, and through two Summer League games in Orlando this past week, Johnson already has shown that he’ll likely be one of this year’s most effective rookies.

In his first Summer League game coming off the bench, Johnson managed 13 points, four rebounds and three assists in only 24 minutes. He followed up that performance on Sunday by posting an even more impressive line as a starter: 24 points, nine rebounds and three steals.

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Free Agency – Who Still Has Spending Power?

By Eric Pincus

The NBA will soon announce the salary cap for the 2015-16 season.  The exact figures aren’t likely to be available until late Wednesday, right before the signing period begins on July 9th.

In the meantime, the league’s most recent projection is $67.1 million, although a cbssports.com report suggested that number could climb to $69.1 million.

Teams that go under the cap gain a $2.8 million room exception (RE), but lose their mid-level (MLE) of $5.5 million, bi-annual (BAE) of $2.1 million and any trade (TPE) exceptions.

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Has a Prudent, Patient Phil Jackson Righted the Knicks Ship?

By Tommy Beer

Phil Jackson’s first year captaining the Knicks’ ship was far from pleasant. Choppy waters worsened into a perfect storm of inefficiency, injuries and ineptitude.

However, based on what we have seen over the last few weeks, spanning from the draft on June 25th through the first day free agents can officially sign with their new teams on July 9th, has Jackson successfully navigated the Knicks out of harm’s way? Is there now smoother sailing ahead?

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Dario Saric Wanted to Join Sixers This Summer

By David Pick

Dario Saric, the Philadelphia 76ers’ prized overseas stash, had hopes of making the jump to the NBA this offseason.

“Saric told people he wanted to join Philadelphia now, but couldn’t because his contract had no out-clause,” a source told Basketball Insiders.

Despite the Sixers’ late push to bring him over as soon as possible, negotiations with Turkish finalist Anadolu Efes failed to materialize. Saric is handcuffed overseas until 2016, but it was clear, sources familiar with his wishes said, that he wanted to join Philadelphia.

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Just Embrace The Youth Movement, Lakers

By Jabari Davis

While the common narrative about the current state of the Los Angeles Lakers may revolve around their inability to persuade some of the bigger names in free agency to don the ‘purple and gold’ for the next few seasons, the front office has quietly put together a nice stretch of transactions that should improve their roster moving forward. Whether they sort of backed into these deals is somewhat irrelevant at this point, as the team seems willing to finally revert back to a formula that has proven successful for so many years.

Essentially, and fans of the critically acclaimed HBO show ‘The Wire’ would certainly understand and relate to the reference, the front office appeared to lose sight of what they’ve always done best in an attempt to “play away games” rather than sticking to cultivating and developing young talent and assets in preparation to strike when a desired player became available to acquire via transaction.

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DeAndre Jordan Called His Own Shot

By Steve Kyler

Yesterday, after making a verbal commitment to the Dallas Mavericks some five days earlier, L.A. Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan made an abrupt left-turn and agreed to re-sign with the Clippers and execute his new four-year, $88 million contract just after midnight.

In what couldn’t have been scripted better by a Hollywood studio, Jordan is reported to have had second thoughts about his agreement with Dallas and expressed that to his former teammates with the Clippers. In turn those players urged team president Doc Rivers to get involved and a huge party of Clippers players and executives traveled to Houston for a final push at Jordan. That push was enough to sway him back to the Clippers.

 

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Hidden Gems of the Orlando Summer League

By Cody Taylor

A new crop of rookies are introduced to the NBA during the Summer League games each year in Orlando, Las Vegas and now Utah. The games give those players a chance to begin the transition from college ball to the NBA. They can start working with some of their coaches and begin to learn some basic NBA plays.

In addition to rookies, the games provide a chance for unsigned free agents to make a name for themselves. The Summer League can be a great opportunity for prospective players to earn an invite to training camp, which could eventually lead to a spot on the roster.

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Key NBA Veterans Coming Back for More Next Season

By Jessica Camerato

Each season, a new generation of star players emerge. Anthony Davis, who reached a $145 million contract extension with the New Orleans Pelicans, is only 22 years old. With the new wave of talent comes a group of tried-and-true players who are gearing up for another run. Take a look at these veterans (entering their 13th season or higher) who have agreed to return for more during free agency.

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Hidden Gems of the Utah Summer League

By Ben Dowsett

Summer league play in the NBA has multiple points of emphasis. On the one hand are the elite prospects, typically soon-to-be rookies or second-year guys who were drafted highly and are generally expected to be among the better players in the tournament, particularly those in their second summer. Skill development and confidence as team leaders are the important takeaways for these guys, though they sometimes play so well early on that it’s no longer worth it to risk injury by playing them.

On the other end of the spectrum, though, summer play is a time for GMs and executives to identify and analyze talent they may not have seen much of up close. Many guys on summer rosters won’t ever amount to anything, but each year there are a handful who make a big impression and place themselves on the NBA radar.

With Utah Jazz Summer League completed Thursday night, who were a few of the hidden gems making a case for themselves? Let’s take a look.

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Garnett Wants to Build “Something Special” in Minnesota

By Jesse Blancarte

The modern thought in the NBA is that if a team is not a championship contender, it is best to bottom out, get top draft picks and rebuild. The logic makes sense. There’s little value in assembling an expensive roster that is at its best capable of being a seventh of eighth seed in the playoffs. With the way the NBA draft and lottery are structured, there is more incentive to win 20 games and have a shot at drafting a potential superstar than fighting for a likely first-round exit in the postseason.

In furtherance of this prevailing approach to team building, franchises are always looking to make savvy signings that are likely to return nice value, while maintaining future flexibility. However, there are still some instances where teams hand out a contract that doesn’t make a lot of sense given a player’s age, on-court impact and other factors. The most recent example was with the Los Angeles Lakers, who in 2013 re-signed Kobe Bryant to a two-year, $48.5 million contract. The Lakers weren’t necessarily rebuilding at the time, but giving Bryant (who was recovering from a ruptured Achilles) that contract took away financial flexibility that could have made a difference these last few offseasons with major free agents.

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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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