Posts Tagged ‘Daryl Morey’

Blogtable: Fallout in Houston after Kevin McHale’s firing

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

BLOGTABLE: Fallout in Houston after firing? | Best comeback story? | Cousins or Karl in Sacramento?

VIDEOKevin Mchale reportedly fired by Houston

> Kevin McHale was fired by the Rockets today. Right move or wrong move? And what does new coach J.B. Bickerstaff need to do to right this Rocket ship?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Unfortunately, the coach is easier to fire than the players. Unless Kevin got real dumb over the summer, he’s the same coach that got Houston to the Western Conference finals last season. It’s the players who aren’t playing up to par. But, that’s the deal for NBA coaches. The wins are because of the players; the losses are their fault. J.B. Bickerstaff can’t make Dwight Howard healthy or shake Harden out of his funk, but maybe he can get some of the younger guys to contribute more.  He’s a big fan of Clint Capela, and maybe we’ll get even more from him than we’ve seen so far.

Steve Aschburner, Wrong move, so wrong that I’m inclined to refer to them henceforth as the “Wrockets.” If management trots out the tired, old “he lost the locker room” justifications, then Houston, it has a problem. I thought McHale and his staff did wonders to steer that crew through injuries to 54 and 56 victories the past two seasons, reaching the West finals last spring. But talent can only take a team so far for so long unless it’s backed up with leadership and character. I don’t see much of either on the roster, at least not coming from self-absorbed big dogs James Harden and Dwight Howard. Maybe the Wrockets will be able to analytics their way out of this mess but I’m skeptical. Good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff, who has earned a shot and now is stuck with this one. Best thing he has working for him? The big lazy move — firing the coach — has been stripped away, shifting any further blame to the team’s performance and alleged stars.

Fran Blinebury, Wrong move, because McHale didn’t suddenly become incompetent in the six months since he took the Rockets to the Western Conference finals. Only move, because it’s what teams do when they can’t hit the reject button on the roster. First things first for J.B. Bickerstaff and that’s to repair the gaping holes in the Rockets’ defense, which has gone from a level near the top of the league to practically scraping bottom. But none of that will help in the long run if he can’t repair dysfunctional, broken relationships at the core of the lineup.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Wrong move. You get where management is coming from — the team looked terrible in the opening weeks, they can’t let another season slip away. But if McHale was the right guy in the playoffs about seven months ago, when Houston beat the Mavericks in five and had a great comeback against the Clippers before losing to the better team in the Western Conference finals, he was the right guy now. The personality of the roster is the problem, not the coach. Bickerstaff will be a new voice, which sometimes helps, but he won’t be able to right that part of the ship.

Shaun Powell, Right or wrong move? As always, it depends. If the Rockets wake up and get right, then fine. If not, they panicked, because just months ago McHale coached them past the Clippers in an epic playoff rally, took them to the West finals and earned a contract extension. He’s suddenly a crummy coach? Well, either J.B. Bickerstaff or Tom Thibodeau, if they hire him, better be right.

John Schuhmann, If this move gets the Rockets to play like they care about whether or not their opponent puts the ball in the basket, then it was the right move. But there was no excuse for not caring in the first place, and I doubt that McHale was to blame in that regard. Last season, the Rockets ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, even with their three-time Defensive Player of the Year playing only 41 games. This season, they rank 29th, and have been terrible whether Dwight Howard is playing or not. He ranks at the bottom of the league in rim protection, in part because his perimeter teammates can’t contain the ball. The film shows too many examples of Rockets defenders playing downright lazy on defense. There are surely other issues, but they can be addressed once the team collectively wakes up and starts playing defense like it matters, which it does.

Sekou Smith, Wrong in so many ways for McHale, but potentially right for the Rockets and Bickerstaff. McHale’s serving as the fall guy after pushing this crew to 110 regular season wins the past two seasons and last season’s wild playoff ride that ended in the Western Conference finals. He lost his powers after 11 games? Ridiculous. The Rockets have much bigger issues that begin and end inside the locker room (hence Tuesday’s players-only meeting). And that’s where J.B. Bickerstaff‘s opportunity comes into play. If he can find a way to inspire James Harden, Dwight Howard and this crew to commit themselves to improving defensively from the bottom of the NBA pile, there is a chance this ends up being the right and best move the Rockets could have made to salvage this season. But right or wrong, 11 games in … we need time before it becomes clear.

Ian Thomsen, There’s not much that any coach can do until the Rockets get the leadership they need on defense from James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Rockets’ two best players should be dominating that end of the court and thereby establishing the highest and most meaningful standard for their teammates. It should be flattering to Harden and Howard that the responsibility to fix this is on them. Maybe a new voice — or the shock of losing McHale — will get the message through to them, which is a shame.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: If this turns things around and propels the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference, I suppose it will be looked at as the right move. But right now it certainly doesn’t feel like firing the coach who just got a three-year extension and took you to the Western Conference finals is the right move. If Bickerstaff can get them to commit defensively, that’s great, but this isn’t a team built to survive on their defense. To me they should go the other way and commit to their offense … and I’m pretty sure there’s a coach named Mike D’Antoni available out there and known for preaching offense.

McHale takes the fall in Houston

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Just months removed from a trip to the Western Conference finals, Kevin McHale is out in Houston and J.B. Bickerstaff is in as his replacement after the Rockets’ wobbly 4-7 start to this season. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports was the first to report the news of McHale’s firing.

McHale compiled a 193-130 record in four-plus seasons in Houston and signed a three-year extension in December of 2104. But losing streaks of three and four games, longer than anything they endured last season, prompted a players-only team meeting before practice Tuesday.

If James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest of the players couldn’t come up with a solution for what ails this crew, the Rockets’ front office did it for them. And McHale serves as the fall guy.

Bickerstaff, a longtime assistant and the son of veteran NBA coach and executive Bernie Bickerstaff, certainly provides a new voice, albeit from a familiar face. He is well respected around the league and was destined for a head coaching job that doesn’t include an interim tag.

The Rockets, however, clearly are in need of much more than just a different voice.

They’ve fallen apart since grinding their way to the conference finals. They rank near the bottom of the league in defensive rating (29th), points allowed (29th) and opponent field goal percentage (26th). They have yet to hold a single opponent under 100 points this season.

The addition of veteran point guard Ty Lawson has not produced any tangible benefits either. Plus, the team that led the league in made 3-pointers last season ranks next to last in 3-point percentage this season (29 percent).

The fact is, Howard has been a shell of himself and is not the impact player on defense that he has been throughout his career. Harden’s struggling as well, not playing anything like the player many (including his peers) felt deserved Kia MVP honors last season.

Something had to change. Better yet, someone had to go.

But McHale, the winningest coach in franchise history by percentage, and after just 11 games?

There has to be more to this story, more to come from GM Daryl Morey and the Houston brain trust.

For now, it’s up to Bickerstaff to steady things and reshape this team into the outfit that was expected to contend in the Western Conference this season.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 1

Houston, we have a problem | Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond | No worries for the Warriors | Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly

No. 1: Houston, we have a problem — A rough start to the season is one thing. It could happen anywhere, even in a place like Houston, where James Harden and the Rockets were supposed to be ready for prime time after a deep playoff run last season. Well, this might be more than just a rough start. No team in NBA history has lost its first three games of a season by 20 or more points. The Rockets lost to Miami by 109-89 Sunday after leading by as many as 21 earlier in the game. Per Elias, that’s the first time a team has lost a game by 20 or more after leading it by 20 or more since the Los Angeles Clippers did so on March 18, 2000. Three straight 20-plus point beatings is as many as the Rockets had all last season. Houston, we have a problem. A serious problem, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s third straight clunker:

Remember all the times last season that the Rockets, playing with Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones out, argued James Harden’s MVP case by asking to imagine them without Harden to carry them?

There is no need to imagine any longer.

With Howard and Jones unavailable on Sunday, Harden’s spectacular shooting slump to start the season moved to new brick-laying levels that the shorthanded Rockets could not begin to overcome.

The Rockets blew a 21-point second half lead and were blown out by the Miami Heat, 109-89, their third 20-point loss to open the season as Harden scored just a pair of second half points, both from the line.

Harden took 10 3-pointers and missed them all, falling to 2 of 33 from beyond the arc. Yet, despite his shooting problems, five of his seven second-half shots came from beyond the arc, the last easily swatted away by Heat center Hassan Whiteside.

Harden was 2 of 15 overall, scoring 16 points with 12 coming on free throws.

With Howard unavailable to rest in the first game of a back-to-back and Jones out because of a cut on his right eyelid, the Rockets went with a small lineup and got 21 points from Marcus Thornton in his first start. But he had just two in the second half as the Rockets offense crashed and burned.

The Rockets had just 26 second-half points, making 11 of 36 shots with 12 turnovers.


No. 2: Rondo and Russell, Louisville’s finest to battle and bond — Louisville natives Rajon Rondo and D’Angelo Russell share more than just the same position, city roots and high school coach (Doug Bibby). They also share similar hoop dreams for this season, as both hope to help lift their respective teams from the lottery and into the Western Conference playoff mix. As much as the Sacramento Kings’ veteran Rondo will battle against the Los Angeles Lakers’ rookie Russell, and Rondo schooled Russell and the Lakers in their first meeting Friday night, he’s also willing to serve as a mentor for someone who has followed in his footsteps. Baxter Holmes of details the connective tissue shared by Louisville’s finest:

“Their games are definitely different: D’Angelo is a little more methodical; Rajon is cat quick,” Bibby said. “But their passing and their basketball IQ was definitely something that I noticed that was very similar when I first got D’Angelo.

“Their ability to see two plays ahead and their passing ability to see things that a very few percentage of ball players and point guards can see — it was very, very similar.”

Bibby wanted to guide Russell along Rondo’s path, but he didn’t need to show Russell much film of Rondo, since all Russell needed to do was turn on the television and watch Rondo star in nationally-televised games with the Boston Celtics alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

“It was great, just knowing that he was so successful from the same city, the same high school,” Russell said.

Rondo feels the same way, and he’s intrigued. He recently picked Bryant’s brain about Russell, and Rondo and Russell have now exchanged numbers. A potential mentorship appears to be underway.

“He’s a great young kid,” Rondo said. “I’m happy for him. I’m happy another kid from my city made it.”

Russell mentioned Rondo as a player that he wants to model his game after, but things are a bit different now that he will face Rondo in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s hard to say that at this level now when you’re competing, because I’m looking at it like, that’s a weakness,” Russell said. “Like [Rondo could say], ‘This kid looked up to me, I’ve got him.’”


No. 3: No worries for the Warriors — Lucky, huh? The Golden State Warriors don’t need luck when they have the reigning KIA MVP, Stephen Curry, shredding the opposition. Any worries about how this team would handle success, the adversity of losing coach Steve Kerr or big man Andrew Bogut have been answered emphatically by the reigning champs hardly any anyone picked to do it again. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains why those in the know in the Bay Area were never worried about this team:

Rather than showing signs of a championship hangover, MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors appear to be better than ever.

No Steve Kerr? No Andrew Bogut? No problem.

The Warriors are 3-0, winning by almost 17 points per game as they return home to face Memphis on Monday night for a fourth straight game against a 2014-15 playoff team.

“People think we weren’t supposed to be the champs last year,” Curry said Saturday night after scoring 53 points at New Orleans. “I wasn’t supposed to be MVP, whatever. But I want to go out and play well and be better than I was last year.”

Curry has scored 118 points in the three games (39.3 average) and is shooting 58.8 percent. His 53 points Saturday night — one short of his career high — came in 36 minutes. Nobody since Kobe Bryant in 2005 has scored so many points in so few minutes; Kobe had 62 in 36.

“I’m feeling pretty energetic, pretty strong out there on the floor,” Curry said. “I’m playing free, just having fun. Usually good things happen when all that comes together.

“I’m in a good spot right now.”


No. 4: Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in Philly — The Cleveland Cavaliers will face plenty of trap games and sticky situations this season, such is the case for a team nearly every pundit is picking to win it all this season. And they’ll face one of those instances today in Philadelphia, where a 76ers team that has issues of its own wouldn’t appear to present much of a challenge to the visiting Cavaliers. That’s exactly why the Cavaliers have to fight against themselves in the City of Brotherly Love. Chris Haynes of provides some context:

It’s been hard for players to get up for games in Philly.

Instead of putting their players through such an uninspiring contest, opposing teams typically sit their best players against the Sixers. Why risk an injury?

Philadelphia presents a challenge some coaches believe isn’t worth the hassle, but the Cavaliers will accept.

“Everybody will play,” Cavs coach David Blatt said after Sunday’s practice. “…”We know that we have an opponent to play and a job to do.”

If the Cavaliers are a legitimate title contender, games like these are what a championship mentality and culture. The objective is to dominate your opposition early and make it an easy night.

“It’s something that we addressed,” Cavs power forward Kevin Love said of staying focused. “We know that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot so in that regard, we know they’re going to come out and fight. But we have to be in the right mindset every single game. And I think it helps that we’re on the road as well because we’ll have that us-against-the-world mentality.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Move over everyone else, the Spurs Big 3 of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are now the winningest trio in the NBA history … It’s early, of course, but the Milwaukee Bucks did not script the opening stages of this season this way. … Jeremy Lamb is close to locking up an extension with the Charlotte Hornets, a reported 3-year, $21 million dealDeMarcus Cousins has even more reason to hate the Los Angeles Clippers now that he’s listed as day-to-day after suffering an Achilles injury against Blake Griffin and Co. … The Toronto Raptors are perfect, so far this season, but Raptors coach Dwane Casey insists that he doesn’t really know where his team is right now in the grand scheme of things. …

Morning Shootaround — July 21

VIDEO: Becky Hammon, Spurs win Summer League championship


The Spurs keep winning | Cavs, Smith meeting this week | Lawson gives Rockets another dimension | Paul Pierce is coming home

No. 1: The Spurs keep winning The San Antonio Spurs have set up a modern-day NBA dynasty, and manage to continually contend the last few decades. This summer has been no different, as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West in free agency, and then yesterday their Summer League team, coached by Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, knocked off the Phoenix Suns to win the Las Vegas Summer League. As our John Schuhmann writes, the basketball may not always be great at Summer League, but you always get good stories

First, there was Becky Hammon, the first ever female Summer League head coach, leading her team to a 6-1 record and the title her in Las Vegas. A year ago, she was playing for the San Antonio Stars. And already, she’s got some head coaching experience.

“I’m just trying to progress as a coach,” Hammon said about her 10 days in Las Vegas. “It was eye-opening in a lot of different areas for me, just how much my mind was reeling during timeouts.”

But Hammon clearly wasn’t reserved in her new role. She took charge in the huddles and gave the refs the business when a call didn’t go her way.

“It was just a great learning process for me,” she said. “And the guys had to take my mistakes – and I made plenty – and we just kept hanging together as a group.”

A big part of that group and another great story was Jonathon Simmons, who was voted the championship game MVP after scoring 23 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

Simmons played at two different junior colleges before finishing his college career at the University of Houston. He played a season in the ABL and then made the Spurs’ D-League team through an open tryout two years ago.

After playing three games for the Brooklyn Nets’ Summer League team, the Spurs gave Simmons an NBA contract. He came to Las Vegas and averaged 17.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.7 steals for the Summer Spurs.

“It’s just a blessing,” Simmons told The Starters after the game on Monday. “I didn’t see it coming. I’m still kind of shocked right now. But I’m just ready to get to work.”


No. 2: Cavs, Smith meeting this week After going to the Finals with the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.R. Smith opted out of his contract to test the free agency market. And though plenty of money was flying around during the free agency period, Smith’s name was rarely heard. Now, with most of the free agents off the market, Smith remains available and, as he said to’s Joe Vardon, Smith understands that opting out may mean he’ll make less next season

“That’s always part of the gamble of opting out,” Smith told the Northeast Ohio Media Group on Monday at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas, where the NBA players’ union held its summer meeting.

Smith has kept a low profile during the NBA’s free agency period, which is a bad thing for a player who opted out of his contract to seek a raise.

He was the Cavs’ starting shooting guard during the regular season after he was acquired via trade in January, but Smith struggled in the Finals – his last and best chance to increase his earning potential.

Asked if he regretted his decision to decline his contract option, Smith said “Uh, I mean, yes and no.

“No because I’ve gotten offers that I wanted, I mean numbers that I wanted, it’s just different situations,” Smith said. “Right now it’s just a matter of seeing what the Cavs come back to me with. Right now they give me the best opportunity to win.”

Smith’s agent, Leon Rose, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. It is believed Smith was seeking somewhere in the $7 million to $9 million range annually, and he declined to disclose which teams his offers may have come from.

There are only three teams in the NBA that still have the cap space to give him a raise from last year: the Portland Trail Blazers ($16.4 million in cap space); Philadelphia 76ers ($16.3 million); and Indiana Pacers ($11.5 million).

But the Pacers only have the space in theory– a cap snafu with free agent Monta Ellis temporarily voided his free-agent contract. He will sign there and Indiana will be out of cap room.

Smith said he had some “discussions” with the Blazers but they didn’t go anywhere. So if the offers came from organizations outside of Philadelphia, they’re gone.

Smith has always said he wanted to come back to the Cavs, and he reiterated that point on Monday.

“I definitely want to come back to Cleveland,” he said. “The coaches, the team, everything about the situation, it’s perfect for me.”

Asked for the reasons why he does regret his contract decision, he said “just because I would be secure and I would already know I’m where I want to be.

“I wouldn’t have to go through this whole thought process anymore,” he said.


No. 3: Lawson gives Rockets another dimension So much of the Houston Rockets’ offense last season ran through James Harden, and understandably so — Harden is one of the NBA’s best creators. But with their trade for Denver’s Ty Lawson, as Jonathan Feigan writes for the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets feel like Lawson provides a new dimension to their offense that will give Harden the help he needs

They knew they needed more, with everyone from star guard James Harden to general manager Daryl Morey pointing to a need to add another playmaker. So when the Rockets on Monday completed their trade for point guard Ty Lawson, Morey did not immediately point to what Lawson has done or could do for the Rockets; he cited the quest that began when the season ended.

“A lot of what we had hoped to accomplish before next season he’s able to do,” Morey said. “He’s another guy that can attack the basket, can shoot, can make plays for others.”

Days after the season ended, Morey precisely described that need. Even then, he knew the Rockets would chase LaMarcus Aldridge, but would be unlikely to land him. He believed the Rockets would keep the bulk of their own free agents. But he knew even with better health and improvement, the Rockets would likely need help in the backcourt.

“Coach (Kevin McHale) feels and I agree, we could use another playmaker on the perimeter,” Morey said then as if he had skipped to the end of the book. “If it is something we can address, we will. Play off the catch playmaking. There are times people are loading up on James. To have a guy that can play off the catch, attack the basket, finish, make a play, that kind of thing. It’s not easy to find.”

The Rockets found that with Lawson, needing to give up only spare parts and a protected first-round pick because Lawson’s trade value shrank so greatly with his second DUI arrest of the past six months. Lawson was in rehab when the deal was completed and when he spoke to McHale on Monday.

Morey said the Rockets believed Lawson’s rehabilitation gave them confidence he will overcome issues and move past incidents he acknowledged are the type that “have a history of potentially recurring.” But he described the risk of obtaining Lawson as part of all deal-making. There was no doubt about the void that needed to be filled.

“As we saw, especially when we played tougher teams last year, we struggled against teams that would really load up on James Harden. We feel that will be a lot more difficult for teams to do now.”

“People always used to … say our point guard position was terrible, the worst, whatever. I always pointed out that Pat Beverley was a really good player. He’s just maybe suffering compared to all these perennial All Stars we go against in the West. Obviously, we’re still going to be going against those very difficult All Stars, but Ty Lawson is somebody who gives you a top 10 point guard in the league, somebody who can really help us.”

While Beverley can be the 3-and-D point guard that meshes well with Harden, Lawson is a second ball handler and playmaker needed when teams try to wrap their defense around Harden. With the second unit, he not only can be a needed playmaker, Lawson’s strengths – running an up-tempo offense and playmaking in pick-and-roll – fit well with Corey Brewer on the break and Clint Capela on pick-and-rolls.

“Coach McHale and Ty spoke for quite a while again today,” Morey said. “Coach McHale left that conversation feeling very good. Ty does not come in expecting anything. He just wanted to join a team with James Harden, Dwight Howard and a bunch of other guys he knows on the team like Trevor Ariza. I do think it does work either with him as a starter or off the bench.

“When James is off the floor, I do think Ty is going to add a lot and when James is on the floor it’s going to be much more difficult to double team James off pick-and-rolls when you have a secondary playmaker like Ty on the floor.”


No. 4: Paul Pierce is heading home It took him nearly two decades, but after 17 seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce has returned home. After years with the Celtics, Nets and Wizards, the Inglewood, California native signed with the Los Angeles Clippers and, as Gary Washburn writes in the Boston Globe, Pierce is already playing a big part with the Clippers…

“It’s been pretty wild,” Pierce said of convincing Jordan to pass up a max contract offer with the Dallas Mavericks and return to Los Angeles. “I think that whole saga took a form and shade of its own. It got a lot bigger than it was supposed to be.

“I made my decision to be a Clipper. DeAndre [Jordan] changed his mind to be a Clipper.”

After verbally committing to the Mavericks, Jordan had second thoughts and began contacting Clippers players. A contingent of players, led by Pierce, Chris Paul, and Blake Griffin, headed to Houston to speak to Jordan.

“I wasn’t there last year with that team, so I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought but I was on the outside looking in,” Pierce said. “I think guys cleared the air if there was any tension, but I think a lot of the media made it more than it was.”

After spending 15 seasons in Boston, Pierce played one season in Brooklyn after a trade, and then signed last summer with Washington. Despite an impressive playoff performance and raves from teammates, Pierce opted out of his Wizards deal this spring and signed a three-year deal with the Clippers.

“It’s a dream come true to be able to come home, finally,” Pierce said. “I grew up a Laker fan but playing on all the Boston Celtic teams . . . there’s no way I could go there — so this was the next best choice. And it’s always been a dream to play in front of my family and friends.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stan Van Gundy says Reggie Jackson‘s new contract will be a bargain a few years down the road … Quincy Acy says he’s returning to the Sacramento KingsDamian Lillard released his second song of the summer …

Morning Shootaround — April 18

VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry


Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

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Morning Shootaround — March 30

VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 29


Morey confident Rockets win it all this season | Report: Mullin mulling St. John’s job offer | Lakers’ Davis unhappy about sideline stint | Report: Magic ready to extend Hennigan’s contract

No. 1: Morey confident Rockets win it all this season — The MVP and a NBA title? It could happen this season in Houston. James Harden is working on snagging that Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey insists his team is working on the latter, sounding extremely confident that his bunch, with Dwight Howard back in the mix. Calvin Watkins of has more:

Morey’s team is currently the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with nine games remaining in the regular season. In order to reach the NBA Finals, the Rockets will have to overcome several health issues.

Forwards Terrence Jones (lung) and Donatas Motiejunas (lower back pain) have been out recently, and Morey expects them to return before the end of the regular season.

Starting center Dwight Howard has played the past three games under a minutes restriction after missing nearly eight weeks with swelling in his right knee. Howard will not play in Monday’s game at the Toronto Raptors.

Starting point guard Patrick Beverley has a torn ligament in his left wrist and is contemplating surgery. Morey said the team will make a final determination on Beverley’s status on Monday, but if they don’t have him, it won’t deter the team’s goal of trying to win a championship.

“We think we can win the title with or without Beverley,” Morey said on ESPN Radio’s Basketball Insiders show. “Obviously it gets more challenging without Beverley; he’s the key to our ability to guard a lot of these very good point guards in the West.”

Morey said the Golden State Warriors, who own the NBA’s best record and swept the season series against the Rockets this season, should be the favorites to win the title.

“We won’t go in as the favorite,” Morey said. “I think Golden State, deservedly so, gets to be called the favorite. They’ve had a very historic season. I think the Golden State training staff hasn’t been talked about enough this year. That team has been healthy and really that showcased everyone in Golden State. Coach [Steve] Kerr has done a great job. We won’t go in as the favorite. We do feel like we can beat anybody in a seven-game series, and we’re pretty excited to get going with the playoffs.”

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Morning Shootaround — March 1

VIDEO: Highlights of the seven Saturday night games


Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix | Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? | Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washington | Rondo back, coping in Dallas

No. 1: Morris wants more fan support in Phoenix — After his team set a franchise-record low for points in a half, and then provided relief for the rodeo road-weary Spurs, Suns forward Markieff Morris addressed the issue of support for the Suns. You could argue the Suns didn’t deserve much on Saturday when they were wiped out by San Antonio and really didn’t put up much of a fight all night. Also, keep in mind that Morris was perhaps speaking out of frustration, realizing the Suns’ playoff chances might be slipping away in the West. Still, he went on a measured rant, wondering why the building never seems noisy enough for the Suns. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic was willing to listen:

“I don’t think we have a home-court advantage,” Markieff said. “It does not feel like a home-court advantage at all. Some games are going to be bad. You can’t win every game. That comes along with sports. Nobody wins games. We need the support. We need, as a team, to know that our fans are going to be behind us and I don’t feel like this year they’re behind us enough.

“I feel like we do have those genuine Suns fans but, for the most part, I feel like we had more San Antonio than Phoenix fans tonight.”

In the first Spurs visit of the season, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver apologized to fans and offered refunds for a preseason game in which the Spurs did not play their stars. After this Spurs 101-74 drubbing included their stars, the fourth sellout crowd of the season received only advice.

“They don’t boo, but they don’t cheer that much, either,” Markieff said. “We feed off, for the most part, off the energy. I know we’re a lot better than that. I know Phoenix fans are a lot better than that. Like I said, we have a lot of genuine fans that cheers for us – the ones that are in the first row, in the second row, in the third row. Once you go up, you feel like people were just at the game, just watching.”

Markieff made a point to say the sentiment was not specific to Saturday night. The Suns are 17-13 at home this season with six of the home losses coming to losing teams.

“I speak for me and my teammates,” Markieff said. “It depends on who’s playing here. When we have the LeBrons and the D-Wades, we need to be heckling them. We need the fans to win games. We need the energy from them to win a lot of games, and we need that every night, not just certain nights.

“Every night is not going to be a great night. It’s going to happen. Stuff like that is going to happen. We expect more from them because I know they expect more from us.”


No. 2: Harden vs. LeBron for MVP argument? — The MVP debate, heating up in recent weeks, will take a turn Sunday when the Cavs play the Rockets and more specifically, LeBron James shares the floor with James Harden. As you know, LeBron is a 4-time MVP winner, Harden is looking for his first, and has a solid chance. He leads the league in 40-point games (6) and 30-point games (25) and has the Rockets squarely in the hunt in the West despite missing Dwight Howard. In fact, an amusing moment happened at the Sloan analytics conference over the weekend when Rockets GM Daryl Morey sat on a panel with Warriors GM Bob Myers had an exchange when asked their thoughts on the MVP race. Morey said Harden; Myers noted that Steph Curry and the Warriors have a better record and are 4-0 against the Rockets. Also on the panel was agent Arn Tellum, who chimed in for his client: “Russ Westbrook is better than both of them.” Anyway, Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk had this:

“Take James Harden off our team, and we’re nowhere,” Morey said.

Fodder for Mark Cuban? Yes.

True? To a degree. Harden has successfully carried a heavy load with Dwight Howard in and out of the lineup due to injury. Houston outscores opponents by 6.2 points per 100 possessions when Harden plays and get outscored by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when he sits.

Of course, Morey has long admired Harden, trading for him in 2012. That deal has been revisited countless times with the Thunder grading out poorly in hindsight – despite how reasonable the deal seemed at the time.

But perhaps Oklahoma City deserves criticism for negotiating poorly, given how badly Morey says he wanted Harden.

“We basically told the owner, ‘We should just give them everything. Like, literally, every possible thing that isn’t bolted down with the Rockets should be traded,’” Morey said.


No. 3:  Randy Wittman accepts accountability in Washingtonn — The Wizards have had better weeks and months, but at least Saturday was a better day — barely. They slipped past the Pistons and in the process brought themselves some relief from a 6-game slide and a pair of embarrassing losses to a pair of 12-win teams. The good news is Bradley Beal returned from his injury and so did Paul Pierce. No disrespect to Pierce, but the Wizards missed Beal the most. They don’t have a solid backup at his two-guard spot and as a result, John Wall forced too many shots from distance, the kind he doesn’t usually make. The Wizards scored 60 points in the first half against the Pistons and shot 55 percent. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to match the mojo they had early in the season. And if they don’t, well, plenty of speculation will surround coach Randy Wittman, because this team was expected, by management, to take a considerable step in the East. The playoffs will tell. Anyway, Wittman acknowledged the Wizards have been underperforming. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post had this from the coach …

“First and foremost, I’m the leader of this, of the group, and I’ve got to do a better job,” Wittman said. “I’m not doing a good enough job of putting guys in position to succeed better, instilling the confidence in these guys to go out and play. It starts with me. . . . I’ve got to do a better job, obviously, of getting our guys through tough times. That’s my job.”

Beal and Pierce provided what the Wizards’ offense was sorely lacking — dynamic play on the wing. Both players spread the floor with three-point shooting and attacked seams off the dribble, areas that were glaring liabilities during their previous two losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers.

Their imprint was evident in the first half: The Wizards scored 60 points, shot 55.8 percent from the field and made six three-pointers. Washington played with a sense of confidence and freedom not apparent during much of their rut as Wittman incorporated rotation adjustments. In addition to having Beal play with the second unit, which he often did before his eight-game absence, Wittman added Pierce to the lineup.

“We came out as good as we’ve come out both defensively and offensively,” Wittman said. “Again, it starts with me, and I have to figure it out. I can’t explain to you how you play one half and then as soon as a team makes any kind of run we stop playing. That’s what we do — we stop playing. I have to figure out how to help the guys overcome that.


No. 4: Rondo back, coping in Dallas — OK, so it’s over, the Rajon Rondo snit with coach Rick Carlisle. Where do we go from here? As Rondo made his way back into the lineup after a 1-game suspension due to conduct detrimental to Carlisle, both the coach and player have had discussions on how to be on the same page philosophically. Rondo has struggled since arriving from the Celtics and feels the system might need tweaking to his liking. Carlisle seems agreeable to that, but only if it’s in the best interest of the Mavericks, and not just one player. Hey, they’re making an honest attempt here! Tim McMahon of ESPN Dallas offers up this:

“That’s just the way it is,” Rondo said almost an hour after the Brooklyn Nets handed the Dallas Mavericks a 104-94 loss, having wrapped up an extended postgame shooting session. “That’s the system. I’m still learning, and I’ll find a way.”

Of course, it’s Carlisle’s job to help Rondo find a way. That’s why they’ve spent hours talking over the past four days. Some of the plays Carlisle called proved his willingness to adjust, attempting to make the Mavs’ midseason blockbuster-trade acquisition comfortable.

Case in point: Dallas repeatedly ran sets designed to run the offense through Rondo on the block, a new wrinkle for these Mavs but old hat for the four-time All-Star point guard.

“I think he’s mixed some stuff up as far as what worked for me in Boston a couple of years back when we had a great run,” Rondo said. “Just put the ball in my hands in different situations, not just pounding up top. Getting in the post and making plays for my teammates and for myself.”

The results weren’t great in Rondo’s return. He posted a so-so statistical line — eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 turnovers — but the Mavs were minus-22 in the 27:43 Rondo was on the floor.

In fairness, Rondo and the Mavs were forced to play without three of their regular starters. Center Tyson Chandler (hip) and small forward Chandler Parsons (ankle) wore sport coats and sat on the bench while nursing injuries. Shooting guard Monta Ellis (4-of-16 shooting) just didn’t show up.

But perhaps the Mavs’ biggest issue is figuring out how to make the square peg that is Rondo fit into the round hole that is the point guard’s role in Carlisle’s system.

If Carlisle had his way, the Mavs would never have to call a play. They’d just play free-flowing offense at all times. But that doesn’t work with Rondo, whose shooting woes allow defenses to dare him to beat them from the perimeter, screwing up the spacing for everybody else.

So the Mavs must adjust their offensive scheme to mask Rondo’s weaknesses and maximize his strengths.

“We’re in a situation where his abilities mesh with our team a certain way, and there is more play-calling when he’s on the floor because that’s been the most successful way for us to play offensively,” Carlisle said earlier this week. “He and I early on talked a lot about the right plays to call and the right tempo to play at and things like that, and we got away from it in recent games. We’ve got to get back to it. That’s on both of us.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Russell Westbrook underwent surgery on his right cheek and will not play Sunday … Bismack Byiombo of the Hornets is a good dude, taking the homeless to lunch… Hassan Whiteside grabbed 24 rebounds Saturday and the Heat still lost to a Hawks team resting three starters …

Morning shootaround — Feb. 27

VIDEO: Highlights for games played Feb. 26


Bulls hoping for quick Rose return | Paul George returns to practice | Earl Lloyd passes away | Buyouts not working out for Clippers | Rip Hamilton retires

No. 1: Bulls hoping for quick Rose return — When it was announced earlier this week that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose would need knee surgery, many jumped to the belief that he would miss the rest of the season and postseason. But in a press conference yesterday, Bulls management was bullish on the belief that Rose could be back by the end of the season, and be ready for the playoffs, following surgery scheduled for today, writes K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune

The procedure, which team physician Brian Cole will perform, is a removal of part or all of the meniscus. This type of procedure typically is used to address subsequent tears of the meniscus that Rose originally tore in November 2013.

In that surgery, which Cole also performed, Rose’s meniscus was repaired or reattached, and he missed the remainder of the 2013-14 season. A meniscectomy typically involves a shorter rehabilitation period.

The Tribune, citing sources, has reported there is considerable optimism that Rose’s second meniscus tear is small. Until the surgery is performed and Cole determines how much of the meniscus needs to be trimmed, it’s unknown what the timetable for Rose’s return is.

The Bulls said general manager Gar Forman will address that issue after the surgery. At the team’s annual charity event Thursday night, a feeling of hopeful optimism emanated from team officials.

“Nothing’s an easy procedure, but our anticipation is that there’s an area that’s going to get taken care of and the hope is that he will (play this season),” executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said.

Added Forman: “I don’t want to speculate until (Cole) goes in (Rose’s knee), but we’re certainly hopeful.”


Morning shootaround — Feb. 18


Rockets on outs for Dragic? | Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth | Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings | Andrew Young supports Ferry

No. 1: Rockets on outs for Dragic? — Bittersweet might be the best way to describe it, the way the NBA trade deadline follows just days after Valentine’s Day each year. One moment people are flush with romance and gazing longingly into each other’s eyes, the next they’re casting covetous glances at a neighbor’s point guard. Or they’re trading away a player before that player can dump his team, a league transaction as the equivalent of a pre-nup agreement. Then there’s the unrequited love of deals that never actually get consummated, which is what the Houston Rockets were nervous about as Phoenix guard Goran Dragic hit the market this week. The good news for Houston was, Dragic definitely was available. The discouraging news, though, was that the Suns playmaker didn’t have the Rockets on his short list of trade destinations. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle broke down the Rockets’ potential heartache:

With Dragic – who said last month that he would consider all of his options, including the Rockets and Suns – listing the Knicks, Lakers and Heat among teams he would target as a free agent, the Rockets would be considerably more hard-pressed to gamble on a trade deadline move for Dragic.

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has previously gone after a deal for a player that had shown no interest in signing with the Rockets when he pursued a deal with Denver for Carmelo Anthony. He also was willing to close a deal with Orlando for Dwight Howard when Howard at the time was interested in signing with Brooklyn, if he opted out of his Orlando contract to become a free agent.

Those deals were never completed, with Anthony going to the Knicks and Howard agreeing to opt in with Orlando, only to be traded to the Lakers the next off-season.

The Rockets were very interested in trading for Dragic with no guarantee that they could keep him. But unlike the seasons in which they pursued Anthony or Howard, they are not lacking in star power and as open to making a long-shot deal to land and eventually try to keep a foundation piece.

The Rockets could still be willing to make a deal centered around the first-round pick they acquired from the Pelicans in the trade of Omer Asik, an asset they primarily picked up to strengthen their position in a trade during the season. But it could be difficult to give up a rotation player, particularly a player signed beyond the season, in a trade for Dragic, who could leave after the season.


No. 2: Assessing Reggie Jackson’s worth — Lose a player for nothing or give him away for next-to-nothing. Often, that’s what it comes down to at the deadline for teams whose players can hit free agency in a few months. Whether they’re unrestricted and certain to leave or restricted but likely to fetch a price too high to match, the players’ current teams have to ask the same question a prospective suitor faces: What is this guy worth for two months and whatever playoff run follows? The Oklahoma City Thunder were mulling that in regards to guard Reggie Jackson as Thursday’s trade cutoff approached, as reported by the Daily Oklahoman:

As the clock ticks, Jackson’s name remains one of the hottest on the market. There’s a general feeling that the Thunder, a calculated and forward-thinking organization that has always tried to maximize its assets, doesn’t want to lose him for nothing this offseason when he hits restricted free agency. So a trade would seem likely.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

With the Thunder still harboring playoff and title hopes, Jackson remains a key contributor. He is OKC’s best playmaker off the bench and remains capable of taking over and changing games, which he’s done multiple times the past two years. The Thunder’s talent level and championship probability takes a dip without him.

That, of course, changes if Sam Presti can swing a deal that nets the Thunder a contributor in return. But by solely moving Jackson, that’d be tough.

Any franchise interested in Jackson would likely be a non-playoff team needing point guard help — a Knicks or Kings type. It would be a move for the future. But trading for Jackson wouldn’t guarantee he’d be on the roster next season.

Plus, Jackson’s cheap $2.2 million deal complicates things even more. Most of the potentially available rotation players around the league — Brook Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler — make far more than Jackson. The Thunder would have to add more money (potentially Kendrick Perkins) into that type of deal.


No. 3: Lakers, Clippers slide in ratings — The show-biz capital of the world isn’t easily impressed with entertainment that isn’t first class, and that apparently extends to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers this season. According to the Los Angeles Times, both teams have seen the telecasts of their games dip in the ratings. The NBA is trying to stay in front of technology, including a lot of younger fans’ switch from traditional TV viewing to using their tablets and smartphones to access entertainment, but this still is a trend that bears watching, considering the money at stake in broadcasts rights fees and advertising rates. Here is some of the L.A. Times’ report:

Nielsen ratings for the Lakers in the Los Angeles market are at an all-time low, dipping below a 2.00 rating for the first time, according to the ratings firm.

The Lakers’ 1.95 rating on Time Warner Cable SportsNet is down 25% from this point last season and puts the team on pace to break the record low 2.11 figure it posted for the 2013-14 season.

The Clippers are averaging a 1.10 rating on Prime Ticket, a drop of 13% from the same point last season. The ratings gap between the Lakers and Clippers is the lowest on record.

The Lakers (13-40) are on pace for the worst winning percentage in the franchise’s 66-year history. Making them all the harder to watch has been the absence of veteran stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and rookie Julius Randle.

The Lakers’ TV ratings have declined in each of the three seasons they have partnered with TWC, which is paying the team $5 billion over 25 years. The team’s ratings are down 57% from only two years ago, when it posted a 4.63 during Dwight Howard’s one season in L.A.

The Clippers (35-19) are only one game worse than they were at this point last season on the way to a franchise-record 57 victories. They also had avoided injuries to top players before All-Star forward Blake Griffin was diagnosed last week with a staph infection in his right elbow that required surgery.

“The schedule has presented several challenges thus far, including fewer prime-time games and multiple matchups versus marquee events such as Monday Night Football,” said Steve Simpson, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket. “That said, with the exciting brand of basketball the Clippers play, we are optimistic as we head into the second half of the season.”


No. 4: Andrew Young supports Ferry — As the Atlanta Hawks continue to have their way in the Eastern Conference as the NBA’s biggest surprise team of 2014-15, their exiled general manager, Danny Ferry, remains M.I.A. due to the controversy last summer over some racially insensitive (and tape-recorded) remarks. Ferry’s sabbatical hasn’t been turned into a pink slip, though, and a number of folks inside and outside the NBA have spoken up in defense of his character. Now Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta and a longtime civil rights leader, has added his name to that list, saying “Hell no” when asked by a local TV station whether Ferry should be fired. Here’s more from

Asked by WSB TV’s sports director Zach Klein whether Ferry should lose his job, Young responded, “Hell no.”

Ferry took a leave of absence from the Hawks on Sept. 12 after a recording of him making inflammatory comments about Luol Deng on a conference call was made public. Since Ferry’s departure, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer has presided as the head of basketball operations, with assistant general manager Wes Wilcox also active in day-to-day proceedings.

On the call, Ferry characterized Deng as a player who “has a little African in him,” and added, “He’s like a guy who would have a nice store out front and sell you counterfeit stuff out of the back.”

Young said that were he the decision-maker in the Hawks executive offices, he would’ve encouraged Ferry to stay on. He added that he doesn’t believe Ferry is a racist.

“No more than I am,” Young told the Atlanta station. “That’s a word that you cannot define, ‘You are a racist.’ You can’t grow up white in America without having some problems. You can’t grow up black in America without having some subtle feelings.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: One reason Sacramento’s new hire, George Karl, has been so successful as an NBA coach might be all the games he got to play against the Kings. … It’s going to be a busy day for trade deadline rumors, so add this to the list: Detroit and Brooklyn might be circling a Brandon Jennings-Joe Johnson maneuver. … Milwaukee’s Brandon Knight, another restricted free agent this summer, didn’t squeeze onto the East All-Star squad but is highly valued by the trade-meisters. … The folks at kick around some trade speculation too, including Utah’s Enes Kanter to OKC? …

McHale counts ways he’ll miss Parsons

VIDEO: How will the Mavs benefit with the addition of Chandler Parsons?

DALLAS — While Dwight Howard and James Harden have suggested the Houston Rockets will be just fine without Chandler Parsons because, well, they’re the best center and two-guard in the game, thank you, at least one member in red might just miss the small forward now playing in Dallas: Kevin McHale.

Parsons had been the sole survivor off McHale’s first team in Houston in 2011-12. The coach grew fond of the rapidly ascending second-round pick who, under McHale, emerged as a fringe All-Star candidate and a final cut this summer for Team USA.

McHale brought his Rockets to Dallas on Tuesday night to open the preseason. The 6-foot-9 Parsons led the Mavs with 14 points, all coming in the first half when he played a game-high 16 minutes, as if Dallas coach Rick Carlisle wanted to immediately show the Rockets exactly what they’ll miss.

“I talked to Rick about him. I told Rick he’ll do well for him,” McHale said. “I thought he was a good glue guy for the team. I think he’s in a good spot right now. Rick will do a good job with him. As with all young guys, he talked to me about it multiple times, he wanted to get a contract, he wanted to get all this stuff. Everybody, when you come into the league, you want a lot of stuff, and then when you get it, you realize it’s basketball and basketball is the most important thing. But I’m glad he’s got it. I’m sure he’ll settle down now and not be talking about money all the time. He’s killing me with talking about money all the time. He’s got enough of it now.”

McHale, of course, was grinning, if not aching inside. And Parsons, who has acknowledged that he never believed he’d be leaving Houston, is all smiles, too. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey passed on matching the three-year, $46 million offer sheet that Mavs owner Mark Cuban hand-delivered to Parsons at an Orlando, Fla., bar in early July.

Chandler scored with relative ease on his old mates and in a variety of ways, sinking two of his three 3-point attempts, splashing a mid-range jumper, slashing to the basket and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. The Mavs are anticipating a big year for their new acquisition playing off Dirk Nowitzki, the league’s 10th all-time leading scorer, and Monta Ellis, a super penetrator. The 3-ball, which Parsons shot at a 37 percent clip last season, should be readily available to him on the weak side.

“I thought Chandler got better every year,” McHale said. “He’s a good playmaker, good off the dribble, shoots that line-drive jumper just good enough it goes in every once in a while. He’ll make 3s even though you wouldn’t probably look at his shot and think he’s a 3-point [shooter], but he makes a high percentage of them. He’s a big guy, you can switch stuff with him defensively, so I mean he gave us a lot. He was a very good player for us and he’ll be a very good player for Dallas.”

McHale couldn’t stop.

“I just think he had a good all-around game, his ability to drive-and-kick, likes taking big shots,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff we’re going to miss. We’re just going to have to fill in around him and find players that can come in and do some of the stuff he did.”

Houston signed veteran two-way forward and former Rocket Trevor Ariza to replace the 25-year-old Parsons in the starting lineup.

“Trevor’s got really good instincts defensively, he’s long, shoots the ball real well … so he’ll help,” McHale said. “Of course, he’ll have to help us a lot. He’ll have to have a big year for us like Dwight and James has to also.”

Houston believes Donatas Motiejunas is ready to make an impact. The skilled, 7-foot power forward had a game-high 18 points to lead the Rockets to the 111-108 victory in a strange exhibition that included 81 fouls and 109 free throws. The Rockets are hopeful Greek import Kostas Papanikolaou can contribute and that former Mavs guard Jason Terry has some 3-ball magic left in his game.

It’s certainly a reshuffled roster from the team that won 54 games in the first year of the Harden-Howard pairing. After flirting with Carmelo Anthony, it seemed Houston’s big-game hunting GM was on the cusp of signing Chris Bosh and bringing back Parsons to form a true heavyweight. But Bosh took Miami’s money and Houston was left empty-handed.

So now it’s up to McHale to figure out how to mold a handful of new role players, most unaccomplished in the league. And it’s up to Howard and Harden, the self-anointed best center and two-guard in the NBA, to lead and keep the Rockets in the Western Conference title conversation.

“Just play basketball,” Howard said after getting six points, six rebounds and six fouls in 15 minutes of game time. “I let the people up top do their job. I can’t focus on nothing but what I can do to help this team win. We got some pretty good pieces on this team and I think we’re going to continue to get better as the season goes on.”