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NBA Daily: Kevin Porter Jr. or James Harden?

After a tumultuous start to his young career, Kevin Porter Jr. has found his stride with the Houston Rockets. Is he the next star of H-Town? Dylan Thayer breaks it down for this feature on Basketball Insiders!



Soon-to-be 21-year-old Kevin Porter Jr. hasn’t had the most conventional rise to fame in the NBA in his young career thus far. In just his second season, KPJ is on his second team after a one-year stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Things in Cleveland didn’t end very well as tensions were high between the team and him. He was arrested before the start of this season in Ohio on gun charges which caused him to miss time. Then, following a trade with the Brooklyn Nets which netted the Cavs Taurean Prince, he was made available after throwing a fit in the locker room. His locker was moved in favor of the newly-acquired Prince, and this led to the breaking point in the marriage between the Cavs and their sophomore player. He was then subsequently moved in a trade with Houston for a top-55 protected second-round pick. 

Many had begun to doubt the future of his career, as to this point he hadn’t shown that he could stay out of trouble. He even missed time in college for unknown reasons that were cited as personal conduct issues, so more red flags in the NBA had sent waves around the league that he couldn’t keep his name out of negative headlines. Further adding to this notion, he was recently fined by the NBA for violating Health and Safety protocols when he visited a strip club. He didn’t have your average childhood growing up as he saw his father, Kevin Porter Sr., be murdered when he was only four years old. KPJ carries this with him every day and made it known recently in a tweet where he made sure to let the people know he’s KPJ, not just Kevin Porter. 

In Houston things were dire. The team had just lost the best player to don a Rockets jersey since the great Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon and became destined for a porous season. The team went from relying on the former MVP in Harden to giving John Wall the team leader role coming off an Achilles injury. So the idea of getting KPJ for free and to see if they could develop him into the player he looks destined to become was a low-risk, high-reward move for the team to make. 

Porter Jr. was raved about coming out of high school as a five-star player. He committed to play college basketball at the University of Southern California, and many predicted that he was going to be one of the top picks in the 2019 draft. This was a strong thing to say at the time as the 2019 draft class looked to be full of future great players in the NBA. 

The potential of him becoming something seemed very likely. He crafts his game around that of his idol, James Harden. Mimicking the play style of the elite guard, Porter Jr.’s game is full of isolations with the ball and gaining enough space to get a quality shot off on his defender via stepback jumpers. While these plays are very entertaining and show the true talent of his game, some draft analysts didn’t think his game would translate well as they highlighted the inefficiencies and lower percentages that may not work in the modern NBA. That didn’t stop the Cavaliers from getting Porter Jr. right at the end of the first round of the draft, 30th overall in a trade with the Detroit Pistons.

As the talent and skills are there, the job now for Porter Jr. is to put time into his game and letting the coaching staff in Houston help him to develop as a player. This is something that the organization has proven itself to be good at with raw players like Montrezl Harrell, Danuel House Jr., Ben Mclemore and Patrick Beverly to name a few. There’s also the nine-time All-Star, Harden, who took his game to new levels on the Rockets, so KPJ should be in good hands. 

In the short amount of time, he has spent with the Rockets, KPJ has put the league on notice. He isn’t just some player with attitude issues that will never make it in the NBA, he’s a 20-year-old guard capable of making a huge impact on the game whenever he is on the floor. His scoring ability is undeniable, and in the 24 games he has played for the Rockets so far, he has produced nine games of 20 or more points, a feat he only accomplished three times in the 2019-20 season. However, he put everyone on notice when he came in and dropped 50 points, 5 rebounds and 11 assists in a game where he willed the Rockets to a victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. It’s not every day that a 20-year-old sophomore player leads the worst team in the league to a win over a title contender, but that’s exactly the kind of player that KPJ can be.

Another knock on his game that held him back in the past as a prospect coming into the league was his inability to be an effective playmaker. So many scouts labeled him as just a pure scorer who thrives with the ball in his hands on isolated possessions, but he has proved them wrong. After a season of playing off the bench in Cleveland, Porter Jr. has put his passing ability on display as a starter in Houston. Last year, he only had three games out of fifty with five or more assists, which is nothing compared to the eighteen games he has had of that nature this season, in only 24 total games, per Basketball-Reference. As the lead guard with John Wall out for the season once again, KPJ has fulfilled the role very well both scoring effectively and moving the ball for better looks at a shot. 

As the Rockets attempt to climb out of the hole as an organization left behind by the departures of Harden, executive Daryl Morey, and head coach Mike D’Antoni, they have set themselves up well with Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., and Jae’ Sean Tate looking like they will be big contributors down the line. KPJ however can be the alpha and leader of the group if he continues to grow as a player. He has put in work since last season, as he has increased his averages across the board in his tenure with the Rockets. Not much can be said to take anything away from these improvements either because even though he’s now on the worst team in the NBA, he was on the second-worst team last year. 

Do the Rockets have their replacement for James Harden in the 20-year-old guard? It may be too early to jump the gun and say yes, but it is clear that they have found a diamond in the rough. KPJ’s game is even modeled after the former star of Houston making him a great pick to become the next fan-favorite in H-Town. The future is bright for Porter Jr. and the Rockets, and if he can continue to put in the work off the court he could be a perennial All-Star one day with all of the talents he brings to the table.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option



First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option



Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.



The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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