Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Hayes’

Casey, Raptors want to ride continuity

 

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Dwane Casey will be looking to build on last season’s 48-win campaign. (NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Back in December it hardly seemed possible that Dwane Casey would be standing here at Summer League with a smile on his face and his lightweight button-down shirt casually untucked, and most of all still as the coach of the Toronto Raptors.

This misbegotten big-market franchise with the redundant roster was floundering again, off to a 7-12 start, and the well-liked, but lame-duck Casey looked to be running out the clock on his three-year contract.

Then, on Dec. 8, new general manager Masai Ujiri, having built a reputation as a next-generation whiz, made the deal to send Rudy Gay and his massive contract to Sacramento for depth help in point guard Greivis Vasquez and forwards John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. Around the same time, Knicks president James Dolan vetoed a trade that would have landed Raptors starting point guard Kyle Lowry in New York.

Suddenly, a feeling of stability overtook the team. They looked around, looked at themselves and liked what they saw. And everything changed.

“After the trade happened, I thought it brought our team together — camaraderie,” said Casey, who signed a three-year contract extension in May. “They made the decision that we were not going to be a lottery team — I think that’s what everybody expected — and we kept teaching them the principles of what we wanted to be doing and it just came together.

This wasn’t a referendum on Gay, who went to have a surprisingly efficient offensive season with the Kings. Gay and DeRozan are friends off the court, but ill-fitting parts on it, and as the parts fit better and the floor opened up, the Raptors’ offense, also buoyed by Lowry’s uprising, took off.

“It was a fit,” Casey said. “A lot of times you have talent and it doesn’t fit. DeMar and Rudy were similar and Terrence Ross is sitting there, he’s similar, so once you took all the pieces out it opened up things and we went from 29th, I think, in the league in assists to 16th or 17th. That really changed things for us. It helped us tremendously.”

On Dec. 8, the Raptors ranked 30th in assists and 28th in offensive efficiency (101.4 points per 100 possessions). From Dec. 9 to the end of the season, they ranked 13th in assists and ninth in offensive efficiency (107.2). They went 41-22 after the Gay trade and played a rousing seven-game series in front of madhouse crowds, plus gatherings of 10,000 fans in Maple Leaf Square. It was truly one of the great scenes of the postseason.

And it was enough to convince Lowry to stay put, making him the rare Raptor to re-up when he had a chance to leave. He signed a four-year deal worth $48 million. Free agents Patterson and Vasquez also re-signed. Amir Johnson, Landry Fields, Jonas Valanciunas, Ross, Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough are all back, giving the Raptors a real sense of continuity in roster and process.

Toronto also traded Salmons to Atlanta for guard Lou Williams and intriguing developmental center Lucas Nogueria, and signed long, athletic wing James Johnson, who is coming off something of a breakout season with Memphis.

“I don’t know if [Lowry] is the first player to be a free agent to re-sign that had an opportunity to leave, so that says something about what we’re trying to do, where we are, trying to build,” Casey said. “For the first time in his career he was able to say, ‘this is a team that I’m one of the leaders of,’ and for him to come back, it does make a statement of where we are in our growth process and the kind of program we have, and kind of opened some eyes to what kind of city Toronto is.

“The continuity is huge,” Casey said. “You can just see it turning, guys are getting comfortable with the defensive system, the offensive system. We can be top 10 in both offense and defense. Now we just have to continue to do that.”

The Raptors could get some votes as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference when the preseason predictions start to hit the newsstands. LeBron James’ return to Cleveland has shaken up a conference that might boast a favorite in Chicago, but mostly has a handful of what should be entertaining squads, including Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Indiana and perhaps Brooklyn and still Miami.

“There’s opportunity for somebody to step up, it’s so balanced right now from top to bottom,” Casey said of the conference. “It gives us an opportunity to move up and take another step.”

Back in December, that hardly seemed possible.

Lowry carries Raptors to wild win

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets vs. Raptors: Game 5

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After Game 4 in Brooklyn on Sunday, Kyle Lowry said of DeMar DeRozan, “This man is becoming a superstar before everybody’s eyes.”

That’s a nice thing to say about a teammate, but Lowry himself has been the Raptors’ best player this season and the best player in this first-round series. On Wednesday, he carried his team to a wild 115-113 victory in Game 5. Lowry scored 36 points, dished out six assists and turned the ball over only once as the Toronto Raptors took a 3-2 series lead over the Brooklyn Nets, barely hanging on after losing a 26-point lead in 12 minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey had a hard time focusing on anything but the negative afterward. His team allowed an amazing 60 points on Brooklyn’s final 34 possessions of the game, making several defensive mistakes.

But they won the game, because they blistered the Nets late in the second quarter and never allowed them to pull ahead down the stretch. Lowry was the key in both cases.

Lowry did most of his first-half damage (21 points) from the perimeter, making something out of nothing on several possessions and completely outplaying Deron Williams. In fact, as Williams committed two turnovers in the final minute of the second quarter, Lowry capped a 26-4 Raptors run by hitting a floater in traffic and then a ridiculous running 3-pointer off the glass at the buzzer.

And when the Nets had come all the way back from 26 down, it was Lowry who drew a brutal foul on Mirza Teletovic 80 feet from the basket to put the Raptors back ahead. He followed that up by drawing a charge on Alan Anderson and, when the game was tied again two minutes later, he hit a gutsy, step-back three to give his team the lead for good.

“When we need an answer,” Chuck Hayes said afterward, “call Kyle. Kyle will figure it out.”

This series is the latest chapter in the rehabilitation of Lowry’s career. He’s a bulldog. He’ll get in your shirt defensively and fearlessly drive into traffic and find a way to get the ball in the basket, even when there doesn’t seem to be space to do so. He may be the best in the league at drawing fouls on both ends of the floor.

Lowry used to be a pain in the *** for everyone around him, teammates and coaches included. But he’s learned to focus his fire and now, he’s just a pain in the *** for his opponent. Watch him closely on any given night and you’ll wonder if the Raptors could have won 20 games without him.

“He’s a hell of a player,” DeRozan said. “The dog in him makes you want to bring your A-game every single night, because you know he’s going to lay it out there with you.”

Lowry has been the most consistent force in what has been an up-and-down series for both teams. And a myriad of injuries hasn’t put any kind of a dent in his relentlessness.

“He’s never going to stop playing,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said.

Against the most expensive roster in NBA history, featuring several players with much more playoff experience, Kyle Lowry has made it clear that he’s the best player in the series, the real superstar of his team. He has them one win from the conference semifinals and he’s not going to stop until they get there.


VIDEO: DeRozan, Lowry discuss Game 5 victory

Report: Gay Traded To Kings In 7-Player Deal


VIDEO: Raptors deal Rudy Gay as part of a seven-player swap

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Kings made a risky reach for immediate credibility and agreed to acquire Rudy Gay, his bloated contract and his ever-declining shooting from the Raptors in a seven-player deal Sunday that is mostly a salary dump for Toronto.

The Raptors will get Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes, with only Hayes ($5.9 million) and Salmons (a $1-million buyout on his $7 million guaranteed) on the books next season. Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy are also headed to Sacramento as the new management team continues to follow through on plans to aggressively pursue deals, so aggressive that the Kings just countered two moves made in the five months since Pete D’Alessandro was hired as general manager.

The Kings got Vasquez from New Orleans as part of the three-team deal that sent Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans in a sign-and-trade, started him at point guard, and now traded him 18 games into the season, returning Isaiah Thomas to the opening lineup. And, the Kings traded for Derrick Williams on Nov. 26, said they were committed to him as the starter at small forward, and now bring in Gay four games later, unless they have another immediate deal in place for Gay.

Gay is a name, has an active run of six consecutive full seasons of averaging at least 18 points a game and, whether with Williams or in place of Williams, addresses what had been the biggest position need for the Kings. But it says something that he has been traded twice in 10 1/2 months, including when the Grizzlies were willing to break up a lineup with a proven history of long playoff runs and now by a Toronto team trying to build something.

Gay will make $17.8 million this season and has a player option worth $19.3 million for 2104-15 that he almost certainly will exercise. After mostly shooting between 45 percent and 47 percent earlier in his career, though, the 6-foot-9, 220-pounder dropped to 41.6 percent last season with the Grizzlies and Raptors and is all the way down to 38.8 the first 18 games of 2013-14.

The deal will not become official until a trade call with the league on Monday, but Gay, Acy and Gray were all out of uniform Sunday night as the Raptors played the Lakers in Los Angeles, indicating the terms of the move that could save Toronto some $12 million next season were set.

Vegas Chips: Kings, Cousins Rising? Goodwin A Keeper? Brown At Home?

 

LAS VEGAS – Not everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. OK, that does. But these don’t:

KINGS FIND ‘GOOD-LUCK CHARM?’

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The most remarkable comment I heard during Summer League came from new Sacramento Kings coach Mike Malone about DeMarcus Cousins after he watched the final game from the bench with the summer Kings searching for their first win, which they got: “I told him he was our good-luck charm.”

Wow. When Cousins is suddenly deemed a good-luck charm, you know things aren’t the same old same old. This guy was like the Grim Reaper in Sac, delivering seriously bad vibes wherever he wandered. But maybe, just maybe, new ownership, a new front office and a new coaching staff is breaking through the darkness (74-156 during Cousins’ three seasons) and getting through to the immature-yet-wildly talented big man.

Throughout the game, Cousins was encouraging rookie Ben McLemore to remain confident with his shot and the former Jayhawk went on to score 27 points with nine rebounds.

“I went to Alabama and spent some time with him and his family (this summer),” Malone said. “I thanked him for coming to this game and I’ll come back up (to Las Vegas) and spend some time with him with USA basketball. But I told him he was our good-luck charm. All our other veterans came, we couldn’t win a game. DeMarcus came and we got a win, so we needed that presence on the bench.”

Nothing wrong with doting on Cousins. Malone will give The 6-foot-11, 270-pounder who turns 23 next month — yes, it’s difficult to remember how young he still is — equal parts coddling and hard coaching. Cousins, entering his fourth season, is working on his third coach for a franchise that has operated at the height of dysfunction since he was drafted fifth overall after one season at Kentucky.

Even so, Cousins, despite rampant childish behavior, ejections and fines, has put up impressive numbers thus far. His career averages? Try 16.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 0.9 bpg in 29.8 mpg. Want to do a little comparison? Here’s Dwight Howard‘s numbers after his first three seasons: 15.1 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg in 35.4 mpg. If you extrapolate Cousins’ numbers to per-36 minutes, his totals jump to 19.1 ppg, 11.8 rpg and 1.1 bpg.

It’s why new ownership and management believe if they can straighten out Cousins upstairs, they’ll have a foundation block and the face of the franchise they desperately want. That’s a notion that even Cousins says he can now envision. Continuing to compete with the game’s other young stars at Team USA workouts as he is this week can only benefit Cousins and the Kings.

“I believe I mature after every season,” Cousins told reporters Monday’s workout. “I believe people forget I am just 22. At the same time I’ve got a big responsibility. It’s going to take me time, and I’m still learning. But I believe I do improve every year.”

How much can the Kings improve this season? It’s not time to call them a playoff contender in a stacked Western Conference, but they finally appear to be headed in a positive direction. The Kings acquired emerging 6-foot-6 point guard Greivis Vasquez (career-highs 13.9 ppg, 9.0 apg last season) from New Orleans in the Tyreke Evans trade. Marcus Thornton will likely start at shooting guard, with rookies McLemore and Ray McCallum, who had an impressive Summer League (12.6 ppg, 4.0 apg), adding intriguing depth. Blue-collar forward Carl Landry is back in town and defensive-minded Luc Mbah a Moute joins a front line that includes Patrick Patterson, Chuck Hayes and Jason Thompson.

There’s also a budding camaraderie. Point guard Isaiah Thomas, Thornton, Thompson and Jimmer Fredette made appearances in Vegas and even worked out with the summer team.

“From Jason Thompson to Isaiah Thomas, Jimmer, Marcus Thornton, even DeMarcus, them coming around, sensing the change in the ownership and the commitment from ownership, our front office staff, our coaching staff, they know it’s a new day in Sacramento,” Malone said. “I think they’re all excited, looking forward to the change that’s ahead.”

It’s a welcome change for a beleaguered franchise that just months ago was on the brink of bolting for Seattle.

LATE FIRST-ROUND SLEEPER?

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One-and-done Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin was advised to stay in school. His Summer League performance might have been the start of showing why he did not. A lanky 6-foot-5 with long arms, Goodwin finished third on the Suns in scoring (13.1 ppg). More impressive, he shot 50 percent from the floor (26-for-52) — significantly better than his 44 percent as a college freshman — and made eight of his 14 3-point attempts for 57.1 percent (he was 17-for-64 at Kentucky).

“I know what I’m capable of and I just wanted everybody else to know that I can be something they had question marks on,” Goodwin said.

Most impressive was Goodwin’s last game in the inaugural Summer League tournament championship game against eventual-champion Golden State. Yes, it’s only Summer League, but the stakes and pressure were at their highest in a very competitive atmosphere. Goodwin scored 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He also had games of 22 and 20 points and scored in double figures in five of the seven games.

He consistently outplayed 2012 lottery pick Kendall Marshall, who averaged 5.6 ppg and 4.0 apg while shooting just 38.7 percent overall, although 40 percent from beyond the arc. (As our own Scott Howard-Cooper reported, Marshall was on the trading block in Phoenix even before Summer League began.)

Goran Drajic has the starting point guard job locked down along with newly acquired shooting guard Eric Bledsoe. Shannon Brown is a veteran presence off the bench and Malcolm Lee was acquired via a Draft-day trade with Golden State that netted Goodwin.

First-year coach Jeff Hornacek, a salty combo guard in his playing days with Phoenix and Utah, coached the Suns’ summer squad and aid Goodwin’s talent and athleticism are obvious. Now it’s a matter of how much he improves and learns through training camp, Hornacek added.

“I’ve learned just about how to play the game,” Goodwin said of playing under Hornacek. “He’s taught me a lot of things. Before we came here I was with him working out. He taught me things on my shot, taught me how to read situations, when to kick the ball, when to attack, things like that. So he’s been really good for me.”

BROWN IN CLEVELAND COMFORT ZONE

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It’s a little weird for a coach to go back to the team that fired him, unless he’s Billy Martin. But, Mike Brown is doing just that, returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after being fired after the 2009-10 season and before LeBron James‘ decision to bolt. Cleveland hired Byron Scott to replace Brown and now Brown, fired last season by the Lakers after a 1-4 start, replaces Scott.

Brown, 43, is a bit older and wiser after his experiences as the only man to coach both James and Kobe Bryant. Maybe he was out of his element in post-Phil Jackson Lakerland (and who wasn’t last season?), but Brown said he wouldn’t change his approach if he had it to do all over again.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing. I feel like I’m going to be the same coach,” Brown said. “If I was able to go through the same experience again, I’d probably do it the same way. I felt like I worked hard. I felt like I had a plan. It felt like in time the plan would have been executed in the right way, so I enjoyed my time there. But just like any other business that you’re in, when you go through trials and tribulations, whether it’s positive or negative or whatever, you grow in all types of ways. So I feel like I’ve grown. I feel like I’ve matured, not only on the floor as a coach, but even off the floor, too. So a lot of positives I take from that situation.”

Brown said he and his family always loved living in Cleveland, in fact, they were moving back even before the job offer came along. And, by the way, he has a pretty nice roster to work with, including a rising star in Kyrie Irving, as Brown tries to lead the Cavs back to the playoffs for the first time since he and LeBron left town.

Arrested Development?

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — John Wall is struggling.

Maybe you’ve heard.

In addition to his shooting issues, he was taken to the shed Wednesday night in Chicago, not by Derrick Rose but John Lucas III, who had  25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. No offense to JL3, but this was a new low for Wall, the former No. 1 pick who came into the league with “star” stamped on his forehead.

If it’s any consolation to Wall, he isn’t alone. A few other young-uns are finding it rough as they try to take that next step to being established and bona fide stars. And why is this? Maybe they played too many summer league games during the lockout.

Maybe they were overhyped.

Or maybe they just need time.

Whatever, here’s a sampling:

– DeMar DeRozan, 22 years old: Double D is shooting 41 percent and had three straight games where he didn’t get double figures. The Raptors were hoping he’d be at least a borderline All-Star this year, and he might still break out. But it’s coming very slowly at the moment for a guy with obvious skills. Here’s DeRozan on his issues, courtesy of Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

“I just got to play better,” DeRozan said after an 11 point game that saw him hit just one of his first 10 field goal attempts.

“I take a lot of the (blame) when we’re not doing as well because I got to step up and start being consistent on both ends of the floor.”

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Wizards, Kings Talk It Out

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY BUREAU – After 12 days of the 2011-12 NBA season, the Washington Wizards remain the only team without a win. In fact, the only other team with less than two wins is the New Jersey Nets, who came back from 21 points down to beat the Wizards on opening night.

The Wizards’ schedule has been tougher since then, with road games in Atlanta, Milwaukee and Orlando, and a home-and-home with the Celtics. But they’ve had little chance to win any of those five games.

Offense has been problem No. 1 for Washington. They rank dead last in the league, scoring an anemic 89.5 points per 100 possessions. They’ve also been an awful rebounding team, ranking 26th in defensive rebounding percentage, 28th in offensive rebounding percentage and 30th overall.

Things have been bad enough after an 0-6 start that veteran forward Maurice Evans felt the need to call a players-only meeting on Thursday.

“We have to be real with ourselves,” Evans said. “The sense of entitlement that’s here sometimes, I’ve never seen before.”

So the players hashed things out for 15-20 minutes or so, discussing leadership and players’ roles. Evans, who has seen a lot playing for seven teams over nine NBA seasons, felt teammates needed to be reminded that playing time is earned, not given.

“I almost got a sense of relief from the players that it was finally said,” Evans said. “It was almost like something that was taboo or Pandora’s box and no one’s never really touching or addressing the issue. It was just enough dancing around the issues, enough of going through the motions.

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Past, Present Staring Down Kings

HANG TIME TEXAS, Y’ALL – These are busy, frantic times in the King-dom of Sacramento.

For a minute or two, try to forget all of the problems in trying to get a new arena and the rumors that the franchise is still headed to Anaheim. For now, there are other immediate concerns:

First off, how to replace forward/center Chuck Hayes, whose free agent contract was voided when a physical exam revealed a heart abnormality?

Matt Kawahara and Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee had the news:

A projected starter who signed a four-year, $21.3 million free-agent contract Dec. 9, Hayes was expected to play a key role in the Kings’ offense and serve as a physical, vocal presence on defense.

“We’re not going to be able to replace him,” Kings basketball president Geoff Petrie told The Bee on Monday afternoon. “He was one of the best defensive frontcourt players in the league and a really unique player we thought would facilitate some offense.

“We’ll take a look at what we can do, but it’s not going to be the same.”In a statement released Monday, Petrie said notifying Hayes of the failed physical was “one of the most heartbreaking moments of my professional or personal life.”

Hayes has undergone further testing on his heart, but specifics about his condition have not been released. Messages left for Hayes’ agent Monday were not returned.

Monday evening, Hayes posted to his Twitter account, “Thank you everyone for your prayers and support, taking the next step to get healthy and back on the court, much love.”

Perhaps fortunate for the Kings front office is the fact that one of their own, who played in Sacramento last season, is still out there on the free agent leftover pile.

As the Kings look for ways to replace Hayes, among the available free-agent big men is Samuel Dalembert, who played last season in Sacramento.Asked about the possibility of bringing back Dalembert, Petrie said: “We’ve stayed in touch with him periodically along the way. We’ll see what develops here in the next few days and go from there.”

While scrambling to fill cracks in the immediate future, the Kings would be wise to take time out to honor their past in the aftermath of Peja Stojakovic’s calling it a career by hanging his retired jersey from the rafters.

As Victor Contreras of the Bee points out, those 7 1/2 seasons that Peja spent in Sacramento were special and usually spent performing at a very high level.

He goes out as one of Sacramento’s all-time favorite Kings, a player whose No. 16 should hang from the Power Balance Pavilion rafters soon alongside the jerseys of former teammates Chris Webber (No. 4) and Vlade Divac (No. 21).

Stojakovic was the stubbly, baby-faced assassin on the Kings’ original Fab Five. Webber was the muscle inside, Jason Williams thrilled crowds with no-look passes, Divac played point-center, and Doug Christie supplied the defense.

But it was Stojakovic who killed teams from beyond the arc. He was in constant motion, flowing along the baseline like a shark, scoring on back-door feeds and hitting threes from the corner.

Worth remembering also? Peja’s fourth place finish in the 2003-04 MVP voting (24.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 48% 3-point shooting) was just as high as Webber ever finished in his best season of 2000-01 (27.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 4.2).

Dalembert, Others Await Teams’ Call

HANG TIME TEXAS, Y’ALL – Though time is growing late as the Christmas Day tipoff draws near, our friend Chris Sheridan at Sheridan Hoops says there are still several free agents available that should have been signed by now, with Kings shotblocker supreme Samuel Dalembert heading the list.

Lest we all forget, Dalembert was somewhat linked to landing in Miami with the Heat early in the free-agency game. That has since changed as he recently told Fox Sports Florida’s Chris Tomasson that taking the Heat’s $5 million exception “would be tough.” Houston has emerged as a suitor of late, but where Dalembert and several other talented-but-still unemployed free agents end up is a mystery:

Samuel Dalembert should have been signed by now. A shot-blocking and rebounding specialist, the 7-footer would figure to be in his demand simply because capable 7-footers are always seemingly in high demand.

Dalembert had been in negotiations with the Houston Rockets, who have been trying to dig out of the rubble caused when commissioner David Stern dynamited their trade with the Hornets and Lakers, ruining their plans to field a front line of Pau Gasol and Nene.

But now that the news is out that the Kings have voided the contract of free agent signee Chuck Hayes because of a heart abnormality, it makes all that much more sense for Dalembert to re-sign with the Kings, whose owners vowed to keep him at the conclusion of last season.

Yet Dalembert remains idle, as is Kris Humphries, who averaged a double-double for New Jersey last season before marrying and then breaking up with Kim Kardashian.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies made an offer to Bobcats forward Dante Cunningham when they got news that Darrell Arthur would be lost for the season due to a torn Achilles’ tendon.

In the wake of the Kings voiding the four-year, $21-million contract to Chuck Hayes after a physical found a heart irregularlity, don’t think for a minute that his former team in Houston won’t be interested. One thing the Rockets never doubted was Hayes’ heart.

Is there yet an NBA team that can make the right offer to get Andrei Kirilenko to return from his native Russia?

And what about Gilbert Arenas? Isn’t there somebody still willing to roll the dice?

Unmade Deal Most Unfair To Rockets

 

HOUSTON – Here are three things that we know for sure:

– The Hornets will eventually trade Chris Paul somewhere and move on with a rebuilding plan.

– The Lakers will continue being the Lakers, which means they’ll eventually find their way into the running for Paul or Dwight Howard or another high-profile free agent who’ll vault them back into championship contention.

– The Rockets have been kicked in the teeth.

In war, it is often called “collateral damage,” a euphemistic label that does nothing to lessen the pain.

While commissioner David Stern may have had the best interest of the Hornets (he says) in mind and may have been reacting to an outcry from a faction of owners about allowing the Lakers to reload (he denies), at this point the only party to have tangibly suffered is the Rockets, who were caught in the middle.

The Rockets do not have Pau Gasol as the centerpiece of bold makeover plan. They do not the salary cap room to make a max offer to free agent Nene. They do not have last year’s starting center, Chuck Hayes, who bolted to Sacramento during the confusion. And they go back to work in training camp with two players – Kevin Martin and Luis Scola – who know they were not part of the plan for this season.

First-year coach Kevin McHale is in a difficult situation trying to put it all together on the court. But his task is nothing compared to that of general manager Daryl Morey, who has to try to mend fences in his locker room.

Whether the moves to bolster their front line would have lifted the Rockets into the upper reaches of the Western Conference standings or fallen flat is irrelevant. All that matters is that by jumping into the mud puddle and vetoing the original three-team deal, Stern spattered the Rockets badly, tied their hands through the rest of the free-agent process and might have wrecked their season.

Morey has every reason to feel betrayed by the league and Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has every right to go full-Krakatoa on Stern with an eruption that should peel the paint off the walls of the league office.

Call it collateral damage or just a bloody mess in Houston.

Blogtable: Knocking on playoffs door

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Which team that won’t be in the playoffs this season is closest to making the postseason on a consistent basis? And which team is furthest away?

David Aldridge: Closest: Clippers. They just need to stay together and stay healthy. Furthest: Timberwolves. They’re so young, and the West is still so tough. They have to get better than Houston, Golden State and Utah just to get in the playoff conversation. Tall order.

Steve Aschburner: Houston has a few pieces in place – Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes as a flex-all defender, new guy Patrick Patterson – and a bunch of draft picks to plug holes affordably in the next few years. The Rockets’ strong play makes you wonder if Rick Adelman might stick around after all, since the re-build in the post-Ming era might not be such a massive undertaking. Then there are the Timberwolves, who must feel like they’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope at the prospect of playoff participation. Too much disarray and more likely to come next season, when time really does run out on the current front office/coach combo.

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