NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Rockets’ Asik seeking trade — Rumors that the Houston Rockets’ starting center of a season ago, Omer Asik, wanted a trade started to bubble up shortly after the Rockets signed Dwight Howard in free agency. Houston, at the time, was in no big hurry to make a deal for him and wanted to see how the big-man combo would work out. Before last night’s game against the New York Knicks, the Rockets big man apparently made his trade desires known again, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, and our own John Schuhmann says pulling the trigger on a trade isn’t a bad idea now:
Rockets coach Kevin McHale started Asik and Howard together for the first eight games of the season, but the two-center combination has not worked (particularly on offense) and had put the Rockets in several first-quarter holes. On Monday against Toronto, McHale finally pulled the plug on the experiment, keeping Asik on the bench to start the second half. Wednesday in Philadelphia, Terrence Jones started in Asik’s place and Asik played just 4:22 in the Rockets’ overtime loss to the Sixers.
Less than 24 hours later, Asik was asking for a trade. And in the Rockets’ crazy 109-106 victory over the Knicks, he didn’t play at all. McHale used Greg Smith as the backup center late in the first quarter, and when Smith injured his knee less than a minute later, McHale played Jones at center.
It was the first DNP of Asik’s career and ended his league-leading streak of 239 consecutive games played. He was not available for comment after the game, having left the Houston locker room well before it was opened to the media. McHale said: ”He told me today he wasn’t feeling good and he didn’t know if he could play,” McHale said after the game. “I asked him, ‘Are you ready to play?’ and he said, ‘I don’t feel good.’ That’s why I went with Greg.”
A few more starts here or there doesn’t change the fact that the Rockets would be better off swapping Asik for a forward who can shoot and defend. While Asik gives Houston depth up front and insurance on Howard (who struggled to score against Andrea Bargnani on Thursday), he’s not worth what the Rockets are paying him as a 12-minute-a-night backup, especially if there are nights like this — if you think McHale’s “wasn’t feeling good” claim was a little dubious — when he doesn’t play at all.
The Rockets, who have had an up-and-down first 10 games, could raise their ceiling and put themselves in the driver’s seat of a wide-open Western Conference if they can trade Asik for a better fit with Howard and James Harden, someone who could play 30 minutes a night instead of 12. And with other Western Conference contenders (like the Clippers, Grizzlies and Thunder) also ripe for a trade, Houston shouldn’t hesitate to pursue the guy they want.
Though they currently rank 23rd in 3-point shooting (at 32.1 percent) and spacing the floor around Harden/Howard pick-and-rolls is critical, their biggest priority in any deal should be perimeter defense. They’ve had plenty of glaring breakdowns already this season and they have no one to defend the likes of Kevin Durant or, if they truly have title aspirations, LeBron James. Exhibit A is Carmelo Anthony‘s 45 points on 17-for-30 shooting on Thursday.
That’s why the Sixers’ Thaddeus Young should be their primary target, whether it be a straight trade with Philadelphia or a three-team deal. The Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson would be a great fit offensively, but would only add to the defensive problems.
No. 2: Budinger cleared to resume some hoops activity — Just before the start of training camp, the Minnesota Timberwolves got some bad news — small forward Chase Budinger had suffered swelling in his left knee and needed meniscus surgery. Since then, Budinger has been on the mend and has been cleared to rejoin the team and resume basketball activities, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports.com:
Six weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Minnesota forward Chase Budinger has been cleared to resume basketball activities and will rejoin the team Friday, a league source told Yahoo Sports.
It is unclear how soon Budinger, 25, can return to the Timberwolves’ lineup, but doctors are enthusiastic about his progress and expect him to make a complete recovery, a source said.In the past week, Budinger started running on a treadmill and shooting on the court. In rejoining the team, the plan is for Budinger to continue building on his basketball-related rehab process.
The 6-foot-7 Budinger signed a three-year, $16 million contract to return to Minnesota in July.
Budinger had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee less than a month into the 2012-13 season and played only 23 games.
No. 3: Barnes presents a key test for Rivers’ coaching – In case you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you might have missed the scuffle that ensued during Wednesday night’s Thunder-Clippers game, the resulting ejection of Clippers forward Matt Barnes from the scuffle and his postgame tweets that raised some eyebrows. Barnes was fined $25,000 for his actions and did apologize for what he had done, but now comes a challenge for coach Doc Rivers, writes Bill Platschke of the Los Angeles Times:
The first real test of the Doc Rivers era has appeared, and it can appropriately be described in less than 140 characters.
Can the new Clippers coach practice the same toughness that he preaches?
Less than a month into his first season as the Clippers’ $7-million savior, Rivers must start by repairing his own locker room after one of his players threatened to blow it apart.
On Thursday morning, Barnes publicly apologized for the tweet. Several hours later, the NBA fined him a relatively light $25,000. But the real test will come Friday morning, when the team meets for the first time since the incident and Rivers must figure out how to punish the popular Barnes while strengthening any bonds he has frayed.
“Adversity is good, it always is,” Rivers said Wednesday night. “Accept it, embrace it, enjoy it.”
“The choice of words, obviously, that’s a word that I’m not a fan of in all venues,” Rivers said Wednesday night.
Now Los Angeles will learn the extent of Rivers’ disappointment, which could help define the start of Rivers’ tenure here. Though the NBA’s agreement with the players’ union prevent the Clippers from administering formal punishment beyond the league’s action, there are ways Rivers could make a statement here.
Rivers could cut Barnes’ 19 minutes per game down to single figures for a night, or even leave him on the bench for an entire game. Rivers could order Barnes to make a public statement that puts a remorseful voice and face to his tweets.
The new coach will meet with Barnes and the team Friday, at which point Los Angeles will have a better understanding of Rivers’ renowned definition of toughness.
Barnes, whose hardened on-court persona is diametrically opposed to his kind and thoughtful off-court nature, was actually defying toughness in his tweet. If he really wanted to call out his teammates about their fortitude, shouldn’t he have done it to their faces? And should the context of the racial slur really mitigate the offensiveness of its use?
His Clippers teammates, meanwhile, seemed more upset with the tweet’s implications. They love Barnes’ muscle, but they worry about his head. They respect him as a teammate, but they feel his form of playground aggressiveness is counterproductive in an NBA arena.
“I think, at times, toughness can be mistaken in the form of being ready to fight and stuff like that,” said Chris Paul. “Toughness comes down to basketball. At the end of the day, ain’t nobody in the NBA holding the world championship belt, you know what I mean?”
No. 4: Duncan struggling with offense early in season — Lost to many in the course of the Spurs’ win over the Wizards on Wednesday night was that Tim Duncan endured the worst shooting night (1-for-12) of his illustrious career. Overall, Duncan has gotten off to a slow start on offense this season, but as Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News points out, Duncan started slow last season, too, and ended up as an All-NBA First Team selection:
Tim Duncan’s nightmarish shooting night on Wednesday against the Wizards (1 for 12, the worst showing of his illustrious career), or the fact that he’s currently shooting just 38.6 percent through seven games should be cause for significant alarm.
It’s ridiculously early, and the Spurs are still 8-1. (Incidentally, their lone defeat coincided with Duncan’s best game, 24 points on 12-for-23 shooting against Portland.)
No longer the low-post force he once was, Duncan’s perimeter-oriented styles makes him increasingly vulnerable to swoons. Last season he endured the following slumps:
31.7 percent, three games
39.5 percent, three games
40.5 percent, six games
41.0 percent, six games (playoffs)
39.7 percent, four games (playoffs)
Duncan ended up shooting 50.2 percent for the year, and 47 percent during the playoffs while becoming one of the oldest players in league history to earn All-NBA honors.
So, just in case the point isn’t sinking in, we’ll spell it out: With almost 90 percent of the regular season yet to be played, there’s absolutely no reason to panic.
The good news for Duncan: He’s generally getting quality looks. Indeed, he’s taking a higher percentage of shots at the rim (42.2) than he has since 2007-08.
Now, the unsettling part: He’s converting just 54.3 percent of those shots, roughly 10 points below last season’s league average and almost nine points below his lowest mark in seven seasons tracked by Hoops Data.
But wait, there’s more!
According to NBA.com’s new SportVU player tracking data, Duncan ranks:
* 23rd out of 25 players averaging at least five catch-and-shoot attempts per game at 27.8 percent
* 71st out of 72 players averaging at least two close-range points per game at 35.3 percent
Again, at a point of the season where one performance can still skew the statistics, it’s completely reasonable to expect Duncan will bounce back at some point. His teammates think it’s only a matter of time.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards assistant (and ex-Rockets, Nets and Timberwolves star) Sam Cassell has no problem with players doing his trademark dance … Interesting read from the Miami Herald on the origins of Shane Battier‘s last name …
ICYMI Of The Night: If you somehow missed the exciting finish to the Thunder-Warriors game, we’ve got it right here for ya …