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NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Rockets were asking for a lot for Howard — Trade deadline day has come and gone without any of the bigger names — Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, et al — going anywhere. Howard’s name was thrown around a bunch as the deadline grew closer and closer, but him actually leaving Houston was held up by the Rockets’ steep asking price for him, writes Marc Stein of ESPN.com:
League sources told ESPN.com that the Rockets engaged in trade talks with numerous teams once they began aggressively shopping Howard right before the start of the All-Star break.
Sources said that the Rockets talked about potential Howard deals in recent days with a list of teams including Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and, most recently, Milwaukee. Sources say Houston, however, told several teams that it wasn’t prepared to trade Howard without receiving at least one frontline player and a future first-round draft pick in return.
The Rockets took a similar approach with young power forward Donatas Motiejunas and managed to extricate a first-round pick from the Detroit Pistons for Motiejunas in the one trade they did complete on deadline day.
But interested teams were unwilling to pay such a premium for Howard, at least in part because Howard, who turned 30 in December, can become a free agent July 1.
“Many teams called expressing great interest in trading for Dwight,” Howard’s agent, Dan Fegan, told ESPN.com on Thursday night. “The obvious stumbling block to a trade was how could a team justify giving up important assets for a player who was about to become a free agent in a few short months?
“Not surprisingly, as the deadline approached, several teams called stating they had worked out the trade parameters with Houston for a Dwight deal but were not prepared to give up their assets unless Dwight agreed to opt into the last year of his contract and forego free agency. Dwight declined.”
Fegan refused to discuss specific teams that made pitches for Howard, but sources told ESPN.com that the Bucks were one of those teams.
The Bucks and Rockets did exchange some trade proposals, sources said, but Milwaukee made it clear that it wouldn’t go through with any deal for Howard unless he opted into the final season of his contract, which is scheduled to pay him $23.3 million in 2016-17.
Howard earns $22.3 million this season in the third year of his four-year, $88 million contract with the Rockets and has made it clear he intends to bypass Year 4 to return to the open market.
VIDEO: Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff talks after Thursday’s practice
The Bulls, meanwhile, not only kept Pau Gasol, they doubled down on re-signing him in free agency this summer.
General manager Gar Forman called Gasol “part of our core.” Gasol, who turns 36 in July, said the Bulls “for sure” are the leading candidates for his services.
“I’m happy here. I like a lot of things about my situation here. Now let’s see if we can make the basketball better,” Gasol said. “That would be ideal. If we can fix that, it’s obviously something I would want to continue to be a part of.”
At the morning shootaround, a relaxed Gasol called chances of him getting dealt “improbable.” The Kings pushed, offering some variation of Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore and looser protection on the potential first-round pick owed the Bulls.
But the Bulls, who found no takers for Tony Snell and had cursory talks to acquire Shabazz Napier, passed.
“Pau obviously is having a great year,” Hoiberg said. “He had a really good season last year and carried it over to the summer where he helped his team win a European championship. I think he has gotten better as the season has gone on. I love what Pau brings. He’s a guy who can get Jimmy (Butler) easy baskets with his ability to throw the lob passes and his ability to play-make from all over the floor. Everybody in this organization values Pau a lot.”
Gasol did place qualifiers on his preference to re-sign, saying the remaining 29 games would play a factor.
“How we handle this situation and if we’re able to overcome it, get more together and united and stronger or we give up or are content with it,” Gasol said. “Because that tells you a lot about the character of a team and the people you are around with.
“I don’t want to give up on this team just because we’re going through some difficulties. Things really haven’t turned out the way I wanted them to. But there are things that I couldn’t anticipate. All I can do is continue to give my best. And I do still believe we can still turn this thing around a little bit or a lot and put ourselves in a good position.”
VIDEO: Cavaliers breeze past Bulls
No. 3: Celtics look to summer, may soon buyout Lee — Perhaps no team had more assets with which to make a deal on Trade Deadline day than the Boston Celtics. Their stash of future draft picks and salary cap space made them a popular target for rumors all day long. They held tight on all fronts, writes Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, and have shifted their attention to this summer while also likely working on a buyout for unused veteran forward David Lee:
The league’s trade deadline wasn’t entirely that quiet for the Bostonians, but for all the efforts to make their dreams of landing a transformative talent come true, when they weren’t able to get precisely what they wanted, they decided to leave their assets in their pocket.
“There was a lot of action,” said Danny Ainge of this year’s deadline. “I think it was similar to others, maybe not as chaotic. But it always gets chaotic about 2:15 when teams try to throw in a trade that they have going on and they need a third team or second-round pick for this or that.”
According to Herald sources, the Celtics did check on the availability of just about every major star, which is par for the course for most teams — though in the case of the C’s they had the currency in picks and players to lessen the ‘are-you-kidding-me?’ factor.
In addition to those in the highest constellation, the Celts also looked into players such as Brooklyn’s Thaddeus Young. There was a report the C’s were talking about a three-team deal with Cleveland and New Orleans that would have netted them Kevin Love, but no such negotiations took place.
Unless they could get him at their (read: bargain) price, the C’s didn’t want Dwight Howard because, beyond the questions about his health and general approach to the game, they weren’t going to pay him what he’d want if/when he opts out of his contract this summer.
There was a similar financial question with Al Horford, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
“I know you always have to look at guys like that,” said one team’s head of basketball ops, “but I don’t see where either one of them really makes sense for Boston. Horford’s good, but he’s going to be 30 next season, so unless you can get the bigger piece and go for it right away, is he going to be the same guy when you have a chance to go for it a few years down the line?
“And Howard? Everyone talks about the physical stuff with him and if he can play back-to-backs and all that, but it’s even simpler than that for me. I don’t think he’s necessarily a bad guy, but is he playing for Dwight Howard or is he playing for you? I mean, just look at how things have played out where he’s been. It’s not a good look.”
In more immediate business, Ainge will be speaking with David Lee and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, to work on a buyout for the 32-year-old forward. The sides had said they would do so if Lee wasn’t traded — and his inclusion was only going to happen if his contract was needed to make a deal with a star work.
There is no great benefit to letting Lee go, but, if he’s not going to play here, Ainge doesn’t want to see an 11-year veteran tied to the pine. Lee will get a chance to see if there’s a place for him in the rotation of a team with stronger postseason aspirations than the Celts, but NBA rules prevent him from going back to Golden State this season.
VIDEO: Danny Ainge discusses the Trade Deadline
No. 4: Grizzlies gamble at trade deadline with Stephenson — As they open their post-All-Star break slate of the schedule, the Memphis Grizzlies have a solid hold on the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference. During that extended layoff, the Grizzlies remade aspects of their roster, shipping out guard Courtney Lee (to Charlotte) and forward Jeff Green (to the L.A. Clippers yesterday) in exchange for P.J. Hairston, Chris Andersen and Lance Stephenson. Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal explains how Memphis banking on big improvement from virtually all its new faces as the season winds down:
Memphis received swingman P.J. Hairston and two second-rounders from Charlotte, and big man Chris Andersen and two second-round picks from Miami. Every player the Griz acquired is essentially in the last year of his deal. Hairston and Andersen will be unrestricted free agents this summer. The Griz own a $9.4 million team option on Stephenson.
Memphis’ two trades before the NBA’s deadline were more about the draft picks than the players, according to a source.
“The job of management is to straddle the line of getting the team to win in the short term and take care of the future,” Griz general manager Chris Wallace said. “When you have as many unrestricted free agents as we did, you’re not going to be able to sign all of them. The idea was to get something without these guys being able to walk away for nothing.”
The Griz clearly wanted flexibility.
The Green-Stephenson trade was consummated at the eleventh hour and would not have been done without the Clippers’ first-round selection.
Charlotte initiated trade discussions for Lee. Memphis enlisted Miami, which was motivated to reduce luxury-tax payments. Griz executives ultimately decided that four second-round picks for Lee were worth more than 29 additional games with him. They deemed Lee too expensive to re-sign as a free agent.
The moves presumably were designed to give the Griz more tools to improve their depth with younger, more athletic players. Hairston and Stephenson didn’t live up to their potential with their former teams.
Although neither player was a centerpiece in his deal, there is hope that Hairston and Stephenson will improve.
Stephenson, 25, had an underwhelming four months with the Clippers. He was averaging 4.7 points and 2.5 points in 15.8 minutes per game. Stephenson, who has the nickname “Born Ready,” is working to prove himself in a second straight dismal season.
He hasn’t come close to being the same breakout scorer he was with the Indiana Pacers two years ago. Stephenson’s time with the Charlotte Hornets last season was the start of a precipitous drop from emerging as a borderline All-Star and one of the game’s top perimeter defenders.
So Charlotte traded Stephenson to Los Angeles last June in a deal involving Matt Barnes. The Clippers saw the transaction as a low-risk, high-reward gamble and that is exactly the Grizzlies’ mindset.
Memphis can decline Stephenson’s contract for the 2016-17 season if things don’t work out.
Either way, the Griz are back to rolling the dice on potential as they continue to try to win now.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is calling the team’s deadline-day moves a ‘calculated risk’ … According to a report, the Atlanta Hawks had Jeff Teague in trade talks right up to the deadline … The Washington Wizards are glad they have Markieff Morris in the fold … Say what you want about Dwight Howard, but someone will give him a deal this summer … How a former NBA front-office exec views all of the Trade Deadline day deals …