Posts Tagged ‘Houston Rockets’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Terry relishing new chance in Houston | Dragic, not Bledsoe, deserves extension? | Lakers forward Johnson works out with Bryant

No. 1: Terry relishing opportunity to help Rockets — The Houston Rockets lost out this summer on adding a star free-agent like Carmelo Anthony or Pau Gasol and also watched as small forward Chandler Parsons left town to sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Last night, the Rockets helped offset some of their offseason losses by officially completing the trade that has brought Kings sixth man (and longtime Mavs standout) Jason Terry back to Texas. Terry is glad to be a part of a playoff-bound squad and, after years of tormenting the Rockets as a Maverick, is ready to help them soar. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

The Rockets general manager might not have used the term “Rockets killer,” but in one of his first conversations with Terry after reaching agreement on the trade that officially brought Terry to Houston on Wednesday, Daryl Morey told him that many Rockets fans have considered him one of their most bitter rivals.

Being regarded as a particularly vexing nemesis could have been considered a complement, but Terry said some of the same emotions that inspired his play against the Rockets will also allow him to return to that level now that he’ll play for the Rockets.

“It was always special playing in the Houston Rockets’ arena,” Terry said. “I don’t know if it was the fans, or the red seats – probably a little bit of both – the history of the franchise; it’s just a special place.

“There’s about six or seven arenas around the league that when you step foot in that arena, you feel like, ‘Man, I want to have a big game.” So every time I faced Houston … I always wanted to … perform at high level. Now that I’m joining the Rockets, hopefully I can provide that same energy, that same excitement that they faced for years.”

His reputation, however, likely comes from the 2004-05 playoff series against the Rockets when the Mavericks came back after losing the first two games of the series to win in seven games. Terry averaged 18.3 points on 52 percent shooting and 60.6 percent 3-point shooting, reveling in his successes with his “Jet” pantomime around the court.

He played 35 games with the Nets last season, averaging a career-low 4.5 points, before he was traded to Sacramento. The Kings allowed him to return to Dallas to rehab his knee, and Terry said he is now ready to play as he never could last season.

“I’m 100 percent now,” Terry said. “Last season, coming off surgery, I never gave it a chance to heal properly and then strengthen. I tried to rush back. That just set me back even further.

“I worked extremely hard every single day to strengthen the knee and to get back at full strength. In my off-season training, I’ve been able to go extremely hard and I’ve been able to do everything. That was something I was limited in last season.”

“I definitely look at it as a situation when Jason Kidd came to the Dallas Mavericks, what he did for me on and off the court, teaching me how to play the game the right way and how to take care of your body, putting the extra work in,” Terry said. “I’m not saying they don’t know, but there are things I’ve picked up … that I can show them. I’m going to be there to provide that type of leadership.”

Still, Terry said he is coming to Houston to play. He was surprised by the deal, but said he became excited when he spoke with Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Terry had said in July he did not want to be a part of the Kings’ rebuilding. Hoping to play at least to 40-years-old before going into coaching, he said he wanted to chase another championship.

“Hearing his voice assured me I was heading to the right destination and that I was in a winning situation,” Terry said. “That’s all you ask for when you’re at this stage of your career, having an opportunity to win a championship. I think that’s what the Rockets have presented to me.” (more…)

Blogtable: Ranking the starts

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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: The state of the States | Getting untracked | The Hawks


Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau are working out in Spain. Will that help? (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

> Rank, from the roughest to the smoothest, the start that these re-worked teams face this season, and why: Chicago, Cleveland, Golden State, Houston.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’ll go Houston, Golden State, Chicago and Cleveland. The Rockets are dealing with offseason loss and dashed ambitions, a lousy way to open any new season. Golden State faces a learning curve under Steve Kerr and his staff and apparently some bruised feelings for Klay Thompson and David Lee. The Bulls didn’t get Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love but they’ve done this depth-and-new-parts thing before, assuming Derrick Rose flakes off his rust. The Cavaliers face all sorts of adjustments, but the big-risk, big-reward payoff is so enticing, their growing pains will feel like a brawny chiropractor’s adjustments, well worth it when they’re done.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Depending on the conditioning and the game feel of Derrick Rose after missing virtually two years of NBA play, the Bulls potentially have the roughest start just to get him back in the lineup, up to speed and meshing with everyone else.  I’d slot the Rockets next, because after Dwight Howard and James Harden they have a glaring lack of depth that the addition of Trevor Ariza doesn’t cover.  Houston will be relying on many young faces — Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Troy Daniels, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson — to step up and deliver.  The Warriors roster is not re-worked — add Shaun Livingston — but they’ve got a new coach.  It always comes down to the health of Andrew Bogut.  But either way, they’re still likely in the mid to bottom of the West bracket.  Not much changes.  Then comes the Cavs.  A bump here, a loss there and, of course, every time it happens the world will panic.  But LeBron is back in Cleveland and that makes things smoother than a baby’s bottom.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I put the Rockets at the top of the list. There’s been a ton of turnover and I’m sure the remaining players at some point had to be shaking their heads at what had gone down. I’m not sure the Rockets really ever developed a true identity last year (they sure couldn’t close out a game regardless how big the lead), and now it’s up to Dwight Howard and James Harden to handle the pressure of expectations and lift the team even as it might overall be weaker. Next I’ll go with Chicago because of the Derrick Rose factor. I think he’s got double-duty in the sense that he has to get himself right, regain his confidence, find his shot, etc., while also figuring out his team. Cleveland is next as three All-Stars try to come together under a first-time NBA head coach. As for Golden State, I just see a pretty smooth transition here with Steve Kerr. The core roster is the same and I think Kerr’s style is going to be a fun and quick learn for his players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Chicago (roughest), Houston, Cleveland, Golden State (smoothest). The Bulls are in the hardest position because so much of their success will depend on a player, Derrick Rose, coming back from a long injury absence. That will take time, even if he is doing well physically. The Warriors are in the best position because they basically return the same roster. New coach, so the system might be different, but Steve Kerr isn’t going to make dramatic adjustments that will cause players to grind gears. He isn’t going to install a slow-down, half-court brand of basketball. The Warriors are not that re-worked. Take Golden State out, and the Cavaliers have the smoothest start. A lot of new players, yes, but veteran players, unselfish players, mature players. There may be an adjustment period in Cleveland, but if you have to go through one, go through it with the best player in the world.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThe Warriors will have the roughest start, because they hired a guy who has never coached before. The Rockets lost two of their playmakers, so they will take a step back offensively. The Cavs have a new coach and new starting lineup, so it will take some time for them to be the juggernauts that we think they’ll be eventually. Derrick Rose won’t be at his best in October and November, but the Bulls have that defense to fall back on. This is now Year 5 for Tom Thibodeau, who will have his foot on the pedal from the start.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comCleveland should have the toughest time because they have the most change to adjust to from new stars to a new coach who is new to the NBA. Chicago is next with Derrick Rose coming back and Pau Gasol coming into the fold. Houston lost an important piece in Chandler Parsons but replaced him with a guy in Trevor Ariza who has played a similar role in a couple of spots, so his transition should be relatively smooth. Golden State’s major change came in the coaching ranks, so if Steve Kerr is as ready as people think, the Warriors should have the smoothest start of anyone on this list.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCleveland — They aren’t adding just one new player, they’re adding several starters, as well as a coach with zero NBA head coaching experience, plus expectations will be sky-high, despite LeBron doing his best to tamp those down. Golden State — There may be a moderately difficult adjustment period, but as they’re returning mostly the same roster, the level of familiarity between players will help as they adopt Kerr’s system. Chicago — Adding Pau Gasol may cause a bit of a wrinkle, as they lose Carlos Boozer who’d spent years in Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system. But Gasol is smart and versatile enough that it shouldn’t be a major disruption. Houston — They may be swapping out Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza, but it’s essentially that, a swap. Houston pivots on Dwight Howard and James Harden, and as they go, so goes everyone else.

Morning Shootaround — August 24


VIDEO: Kevin Love’s top plays with the Timberwolves

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavaliers trade for Kevin Love | Wolves get Young | Team USA’s new look

No. 1: Cavaliers trade for Kevin Love — After months of talk and rumors, the suggestions have become reality as the Minnesota Timberwolves have traded Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers for a package including this year’s No. 1 draft pick, Andrew Wiggins, and last year’s No. 1 pick, Anthony Bennett. While LeBron James may have chosen to return to Cleveland in part because of their combination of young players and draft picks, giving the team a bright future, this trade allows James to team with Love and Kyrie Irving, giving Cleveland its own dynamic version of a big three. More important, as our Fran Blinebury writes, adding Love almost certainly accelerates the timeline for contending in Cleveland.

But the simple truth is that arrival of Love to Cleveland gives the Cavs with James and Kyrie Irving the best young All-Star threesome in the NBA.

James himself had cautioned everyone not rush to judgment and expect too much too soon. He said it would be a long road for the Cavaliers to reach a champion’s level and that was speaking from the experience in Miami.

That was also speaking from as the lone playoff-tested veteran on a team where the rookie Wiggins would have had to learn about the league and about himself. But all of a sudden, James and the Cavs have a shortcut.

Love, 26 in a couple of weeks, is a completely different animal, a top 10 level talent, who can produce double-doubles every night and has 3-point shooting range. Love is someone who changed his body and has changed his game to become one of the most consistent number producers in the league, the kind of front-line anchor right now that the Cavs could only have hoped they’d get from last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, who was included in the deal with Minnesota.

No. 2: Wolves get Young — While picking up two former No. 1 picks, Minnesota continued its makeover by moving Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to Philadelphia in exchange for Thaddeus Young. With Young, Wiggins and Bennett in the fold alongside Ricky Rubio and draft pick Zach LaVine, the Timberwolves now have one of the most athletic cores in the NBA. As Wolves GM/coach Flip Saunders notes, the Wolves should be able to get up and down the floor in a hurry this season.

“It became very evident to anyone that contacted us that, in order to do something, we were going to demand something in return that was going to benefit us either now or in the future,” Saunders said.

With the three new players — as well as Zach LaVine, the No. 13 pick in this year’s draft — Saunders said the Wolves have an identity that includes the athletic, two-way players they lacked when he was hired as president last year.

With Wiggins and LaVine making plays at the rim, Saunders called it “a point guard’s delight” for Ricky Rubio, who can become more of an on-court leader with Love gone.

Before they take the court, Wiggins, Bennett and Young will be introduced at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Minnesota State Fair. LaVine, who is close with Wiggins, will join them.

No. 3: Team USA’s new look — As Team USA arrives in Europe to prepare for the FIBA Basketball World Cup, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained some of the squad’s recent roster moves to ESPN.com. While many observers assumed DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Drummond and Mason Plumlee were battling for one roster spot, all three ended up making the final roster as Team USA went with size and strength over speed and versatility. According to Colangelo, assembling a bigger roster allows Team USA “an opportunity to throw a new look at people.”

“This gives us an opportunity to do some things we haven’t had a chance to do in the past,” Colangelo said. “It’s true that the preferred style of play [in recent years] has been going small, but you have to ask: Was that by choice or by necessity?

“Early on [this summer], we said it would be hard to carry four bigs, but that was kind of put on the shelf. Certainly there won’t be any discussion going forward about, ‘What are you going to do about bigs, what are you going to do about playing teams with size?’ If Coach wishes to show a big front line, he now has the capacity to do so.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Before the Wolves’ moves were announced, they scooped themselves with an ad in the early edition of a local paper. … The Cavs sent a letter to fans who bought a Wiggins jersey to give them some options. … The Houston Rockets have re-signed Francisco Garcia. … According to a report, NBA veteran Hakim Warrick will work out with the San Antonio Spurs

Morning shootaround — Aug. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Young headed to Wolves | Thompson miffed over trade talks | Report: Rockets re-sign Garcia

No. 1: Reports: Young headed to Wolves in Love deal — As was first reported last night by Jerry Zgoda of The Star-Tribune, once Kevin Love is trad to the Cleveland Cavaliers happens (it’s likely to be tomorrow) for Andrew Wiggins, the Minnesota Timberwolves will get Sixers forward Thaddeus Young from Philly as part of another deal. Here’s a quick look at what will happen in that trade:

The Minnesota Timberwolves will acquire Philadelphia 76ers forward Thaddeus Young for a 2015 first-round draft pick and two role players, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Timberwolves will send Philadelphia the Miami Heat’s 2015 first-round pick Minnesota will acquire as part of the Kevin Love deal with Cleveland, sources said. The T-Wolves will send forward Luc Mbah a Moute and guard Alexey Shved to the Sixers.

Mbah a Moute has a long-standing relationship with Sixers rookie Joel Embiid, and Philadelphia considers him an important part of the mentoring process for the third pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

While Young, Shved, Love and Mbah a Moute are the known players in this deal, there is a chance that last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Anthony Bennett will head to Minnesota, too:

The deal cannot be completed until Aug. 23, which is 30 days after Wiggins signed his rookie contract with the Cavaliers. (more…)

Blogtable: Playoff teams falling

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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: Best place for Wiggins | Playoff team due for a fall | Superstars without a wingman


> Which of last year’s playoffs teams is in for the biggest dropoff in ’14-‘15? One in each conference, please. And to make it tougher, let’s not include Indiana in this discussion.

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Dwight Howard and James Harden (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: It’s important to know what constitutes a bigger dropoff: A slide of several spots while staying in the bracket or a fall of a place or two that takes a team out of the postseason entirely. In the East, I think Miami drops a few spots with LeBron gone and has to play from down under in the first round. But Brooklyn, whose weird one-season mojo needs an overhaul now, might slip out of the top eight entirely. In the West, Houston looks ripe for a fall to seventh or eighth after its poor offseason harvest. The Rockets’ best players bring talent but that team needs more heart and better locker-room leadership. Roll up your sleeves, Trevor Ariza.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBrooklyn. Paul Pierce is gone, Kevin Garnett is wavering and Deron Williams might be through. Welcome back, Lionel Holllins.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIn the East, isn’t the obvious answer Miami? I mean, there’s no LeBron. And Luol Deng, while a solid two-way player, is no LeBron. Really, every other East team in the playoffs last season, with the exception of the aforementioned Pacers, should be on the rise. The West is a tougher call, but let’s go with Houston, which loses perfect-for-its-system small forward Chandler Parsons and a huge chunk of its bench. The pressure is on James Harden and Dwight Howard to be team-first leaders.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Western Conference: Houston. I don’t think it will be a big drop off, but Chandler Parsons is a hit for a team that was facing increased scrutiny anyway after losing in the first round despite home-court advantage. Eastern Conference: Miami. If the Pacers are removed from consideration because it’s too obvious an answer with the Paul George injury, the Heat are not far behind for a quick response.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: In the East, it has to be Miami, for obvious reasons. They should still be a very good team, but without LeBron James and if Dwyane Wade misses another 20-plus games, they’re probably not in the conference’s top four anymore. In the West, Houston will suffer offensively with the departures of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, two of their best playmakers last season. And if either James Harden or Dwight Howard misses 10-plus games, they could be in serious trouble, because neither of those guys has a legit back-up.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: This is a tough one without Indiana in the mix. In the Eastern Conference, Miami has to be the candidate to take the biggest tumble based solely on the loss of LeBron James and the fact that no one will be slotting them in the top two for the 2014-15 season. That said, I think the Heat will remain among the playoff elite in the East. They just have to get used to life on a floor other than the penthouse. No one in the Western Conference wants to give up an inch, making it much tougher to crack the top eight on that side of the conference divide. The top three — San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers — should remain the same, in whatever order. That leaves the Houston Rockets as the most vulnerable to an attack from teams trying to climb into that top four. The Rockets could conceivably be just as good or better than they were last season and finish lower in the pecking order in 2014-15.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMiami in the East. I really like Luol Deng and feel like he was one of the more underrated free agents this summer, but replacing LeBron and everything he did on both ends of the court is basically impossible. And can Dwyane Wade stay healthy enough to produce for 82 games, or is he only going to be able to play 50ish games again this season? And in the West, well, I don’t know. I feel like those teams are pretty much locked in atop the conference. The one team I think will be most interesting to watch will be Golden State. Mark Jackson brought so many intangibles to that team, and I am curious to see how Steve Kerr uses Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and how he’s able to get that roster to buy into his system.

NBA doesn’t view state tax disparity as competitive disadvantage

Sometimes it’s the weather. Sometimes it’s the scenery. Sometimes it’s the nightlife or the endorsement potential or spouse-and-family priorities. Sometimes it’s even the basketball, the rest of the roster, the chance to win.

And sometimes it’s the money.

How much does staying in New York cost Carmelo?  (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

How much does staying in New York cost Carmelo? (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

There are a skidload of reasons why NBA free agents choose the destinations they choose and the league can’t do much (beyond the collectively bargained rules already in place) to control them. But money is something the NBA is very good at controlling. From the maximum salary a superstar can earn to the minimum wage paid to some undrafted rookie, from the “floor” that a team must spend on its player payroll to the luxury-tax threshold that acts as a de facto hard salary cap for most owners, the league manages to the dollar its costs, cash outlays and other budgets and expenditures that impact competitive balance.

So what’s up with the state tax disparity?

When Washington free agent Trevor Ariza agreed to a four-year, $32 million deal with Houston earlier this month — accepting essentially the same salary the Wizards offered him — multiple outlets noted a big difference in Ariza’s take-home pay with the Rockets. The lack of a state tax in Texas vs. the local taxes (and higher cost of living) in and around Washington, D.C., meant the veteran wing player would pocket as much as $3 million more by working and living in Houston.

And when Carmelo Anthony was making the VIP rounds on his team-selection tour that landed him right back in New York, SI.com’s Michael McCann and tax expert Robert Raiola painstakingly crunched the numbers to account for federal, state, city and “jock” taxes (most NBA markets require visiting players to pay local taxes on the portion of their income earned within their jurisdiction).

Their findings? The “same” $95.9 million/four years offer to Anthony from Houston, Miami and Chicago would have differed, in what he actually took home, by as much as $1.4 million. Yet because of New York’s high state and city tax rates, a maximum offer from the Knicks – $129.1 million/five years, or $33.2 million more than what those other clubs could have paid him – would have been whittled down to $66.7 million in net wages.

The net gap, thanks to tax liabilities, would have been less than $13 million compared to what the Bulls could have paid him (had Chicago cleared maximum cap space) and about $11.4 million more than the Heat or Rockets would have paid.

Remember, too, that just four summers ago, the decisions by LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade in Miami weren’t made in a tax vacuum. Much attention was paid to their willingness to sign for slightly less than maximum salaries, but it was mostly tax experts, academicians and NBA insiders who tracked the actual savings James and Bosh realized by shedding the liabilities of Ohio and Canada, respectively.

So what are teams and fans to do in places such as Milwaukee, Minnesota or Portland, where the highest marginal income tax rates in 2014 are 7.65 percent, 9.85 percent and 9.9 percent respectively? Or in Sacramento, which doesn’t benefit from the glamour factors as the franchises in Los Angeles or the Bay Area but still is saddled with a 13.3 percent tax rate on high earners? A million here, a million there and pretty soon you’re talking real money compared to what the Rockets, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, Magic and Grizzlies can toss at free agents without state taxes.

Apparently, there’s little interest and no movement at the league’s highest levels to equalize the marketplace.

That’s a departure from what was done about a dozen years ago for the Toronto Raptors, when the NBA took on that franchise’s financial disadvantages, which stemmed not only from Canadian tax rates but an unfavorable (unfavourable?) exchange rate that left Raptors players with less money than their U.S. counterparts.

Shortly after Vancouver moved to Memphis in 2001, and with Toronto’s long-term sustainability in doubt, the NBA provided assistance to the Raptors and their players with a stipend reported at $2 million and other concessions. The exchange rate, however, has evened out since then and Toronto, though it still earns its revenue in Canadian currency, conducts its NBA business – salary cap figures, player payroll – in U.S. dollars. The tax rates for Toronto residents are said to be no better, perhaps, but no worse than for wage earners in many U.S. states.

As for adjusting every team’s cap ($63.065 million for 2014-15), tax level ($76.829 million) and minimum salary ($56.759 million) to factor out state taxes, a league source said the NBA has no such plans.

What might seem to be a simple math exercise grows more complicated when other differences between markets – not just the fuzzy intangibles or “quality of life” preferences – are considered. Property taxes, sales taxes, real estate prices and overall cost-of-living adjustments might cry out for attention, too.

The NBA, already deep into luxury-tax and revenue-sharing policies it says were designed for greater competitive balance, could wind up with a crazy quilt of figures, rules and bottom lines. Instead of point guards and two-way wing players becoming the darlings of the league, it might be a bunch of tax attorneys for whom fans start rooting.

Then there’s this: Do the Lakers and the Knicks really need any sort of cap advantage to be more desirable destinations than they’ve traditionally been?

Rockets’ Johnson aims to go from second round to the top


VIDEO: Nick Johnson closes out Summer League with big performance

LAS VEGAS — Summer League is a place in transition, where you see players with shoes that don’t match their uniform, where coaching staff members can outnumber active rosters, where players have to flip their uniform waistbands over to keep their oversize shorts from falling down during play. After one game, I saw a player exit the locker room shirtless with only a backpack, because the trainer had accidentally packed away the shirts before he was finished dressing.

That player was Rockets rookie Nick Johnson. While the Rockets quickly issued Johnson a long-sleeve T-shirt to solve that problem, his path to getting an NBA jersey of his own has been a bit less direct.

“The last few months have been pretty long, pretty wild,” Johnson says. “But it’s been good.”

Last season, as a junior at Arizona, the 6-foot-3 Johnson averaged 16.3 points, earning him consensus first-team All-American honors as well as a Pac-12 Player of the Year nod. Feeling he’d proven his worth, Johnson entered the 2014 NBA Draft. Leading up the Draft, Johnson had fifteen different workouts for NBA teams. “It was a grind. I was going from city to city, going for two weeks at a time.”

Then, on the evening of the Draft, Johnson sat to wait for his name to be called. The first round — with the accompanying guaranteed contract — came and went. Eventually, the Rockets drafted Johnson in the second round, 42nd overall, and the eighth player from the Pac-12 selected.

“It was a long night,” Johnson admits. “I’ll tell you, there’s not 41 players better than me in this year’s draft. And I don’t know anywhere the player of the year has seven players in his same conference get picked before him.

“But overall, it was a good process for me,” he continues, “because I went to a good organization, right now they’re going to the playoffs every year, and I think we have a lot of potential to go pretty far. I’ve always been a winner, always been about winning. So I’m happy I went to an organization that wins.”

Johnson — who is, coincidentally, the nephew of Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson — may be considered undersized at the two, but in Houston’s system he projects at either the one or the two. During Summer League, his athleticism has been a prominent asset in Johnson’s game, and he flashed it Monday during a loss in the Summer League final with a reverse alley-oop dunk en route to a team-leading 17 points. At least initially, that athletic ability should go a long way toward helping him find a place in the NBA.

“I think my game fits really well,” Johnson says. “In the NBA, I have the ability to use my athleticism a lot more than I did in college. I believe that the floor, the spacing is a lot wider with so many shooters around. I saw that a little bit in both of these summer leagues. And with my ability to make plays and get after it on the defensive end, I feel it will translate pretty well.”

“His athleticism is at an elite level, so it’s always going to allow him to compete and he’s a competitor,” says Houston’s summer league coach Chris Finch. “I think he’s right, I think he’ll find more space on the floor provided he gets out and runs, learns to play real quick off the catch where he can beat his man. His athleticism will help near the rim as long as he gets there quickly.”

Besides athleticism, Johnson excels at many of the things that don’t show up on draft previews, such as toughness and leadership. And it’s exactly that kind of hard-minded approach that will help him go from 42 into the upper echelon.

“It’s not where you start it’s where you finish,” Johnson says. “I’m going to make sure to work my hardest, to do my best, to finish at the top.”

For Rockets’ Motiejunas, what happens in Vegas should not stay in Vegas


VIDEO: Donatas Motiejunas has been a load for defenders in Summer League

LAS VEGAS — There were 50 seconds left and the Houston Rockets trailed the Charlotte Hornets, 80-79, in the semifinals of the Samsung Las Vegas Summer League. Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan cleared out the left side of the court, then lobbed the ball inside to center Donatas Motiejunas. Motiejunas caught, leaned back, wheeled toward the center of the court and dropped in a soft hook shot to give the Rockets the lead and the win.

Motiejunas finished the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 31 minutes, another strong performance in the seven-foot Lithuanian’s brief history of terrific Summer League showings. Just two years ago, a 25-point, nine-rebound showing in his Summer League debut caused NBA TV’s Chris Webber to exclaim, “I came to Vegas and fell in love!”

But in two NBA seasons since then, Motiejunas hasn’t been able to consistently find the same kind of minutes or production with the Houston Rockets. So what is it about Vegas that brings out the best in Motiejunas?

“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Do you like Vegas?” the man they call D-Mo says with a smile. “First time when I play it was just after the draft. I came here to prove to everyone I’m not just a simple European guy, a typical one, that I can fight and play. This year, I came here to get into shape for National Team, because the guys started training camp July 7, and my team said they prefer me to stay here and play a couple of games here. We lost two games in a row, I was pissed, and then we start winning, winning, winning. I could not say no, not to play. I just wanted to win.”

The Rockets’ winning streak has pushed this Vegas trip to the limit — after Monday’s championship game, Motiejunas will take an overnight flight to Houston, unpack and repack, and then hop on an evening flight to Frankfurt to join the Lithuanian National Team.

“It’s intensive, but I’m happy. I’m playing, I’m getting a lot of touches, I’m enjoying these guys. Like I said, they did an incredible job the last couple of weeks, separate players becoming team, not easy to do.”

Along with Canaan, Motiejunas has been Houston’s best player in Vegas, averaging 17.7 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds through six games. And with Houston trading away Omer Asik, as well as whiffing on Chris Bosh in free agency, the opportunity for Motiejunas to become a regular Rockets rotation player is there for the taking.

“His homework for Summer League was tougher post defense and rebounding, and I think he’s done both those things,” says Houston Summer League coach Chris Finch. “He’s very skilled offensively — he’s a guy that can score in the post and make plays off the dribble as a big guy. And those are things we can do with him in our offense with the Rockets once we can get him a consistent role. But the defense and the rebounding is what is going to get him that. He did a good job last season of working his way into the rotation, so he’s on the growth path.”

In other words, Motiejunas will have to fight and show toughness to earn minutes. Which is something he says he’s not afraid to do.

“I’m trying to show toughness! Trying to get there!” he laughs, grabbing my arm. “I don’t know, how is going on? Is it getting better?”

You look pretty tough to me, I said.

“OK! It means it’s working out.”

“D-Mo is tough. He is a fighter,” says Finch. “He works hard — you’re never going to find a guy who out-works him. He needs to learn to play with physicality without fouling, physicality without getting out of position, that kind of stuff. That’s why we’ve asked him to be more physical this year defensively and on the glass.”

For his next act, Motiejunas has to translate his Summer League showings into the regular season, finding a way to perform in the regular season as he has in the summer season.

Clearly, for the benefit of both Motiejunas and the Rockets, the trick to going forward is going to be getting what happens in Vegas to not stay in Vegas.

Blogtable: Free agency winners & losers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe 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: Free agency winners & losers | Thoughts on LeBron | Lakers’ coaching search



VIDEO: Carmelo, LeBron, Pierce … The Starters review the big offseason deals

> Who are the winners & losers in free agency thus far? Also, which free agent on the market is still ripe for the picking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d like to get clever here, but I’ll leave that to the crew below and stick with the “A” material here. LeBron James made the Cavaliers the biggest free-agency winners since the Heat four years ago. Losers? Either the Lakers, who got snubbed as if they still were back in Minneapolis, or the Rockets for their mighty whiffs on Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, and what I think were shaky decisions adding Trevor Ariza (contract year!) and subtracting Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. Best guy left? I understand why he’s still on the board – can you say “restricted?” – but as an impact addition, if someone managed to pry him loose, I’d go with big man Greg Monroe of Detroit.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Winners: Cavs, obviously. Champion Spurs kept their core together for another run in 2015. Bulls didn’t land Carmelo, but that’s a nice consolation prize in Pau Gasol.  Mavs did a good job with combined salaries of Dirk and Chandler Parsons and plugged that hole in the middle with Tyson Chandler. Losers: Pat Riley and the Heat. Despite keeping Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, then signing Luol Deng, you are always losing when the best player in the game gets away. The Rockets were left holding an empty bag when Bosh spurned off and also let Parsons go to Dallas. Lakers wind up with Jeremy Lin, but still have no coach and are without Gasol. Hard to see them being relevant again by October. Eric Bledsoe is now the top name still out there, but the Suns insist they’ll spend what it takes to match and keep him. Since Stan Van Gundy also insists he’s keeping Greg Monroe and Lance Stephenson is headed to Charlotte, who else is out there?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Obviously the big winner is Cleveland. They got the King Fish. Chicago nabbing Pau Gasol and Dallas winning a restricted free-agent game of chicken with rival Houston to get Chandler Parsons are also winners. Miami, Houston and the Los Angeles Lakers are the big losers. As for free agents still out there, Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe has yet to receive an offer sheet, and probably because teams know the Suns will match. As for unrestricted free agents, Andray Blatche is a pretty talented big man, who comes with baggage, and there seems to be very little talk of him. There’s also 36-year-old Shawn Marion, who seemed to be a perfect fit in Miami had LeBron strayed, but now appears to running short on options.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Cavaliers are obviously the winner. Getting LeBron James not only changes a roster, it alters the mood of an entire organization. Plus, while Kyrie Irving was not a free agent, getting his extension done at the same time, and done quickly in another positive statement, made it the best July possible. Loser: Rockets. Most every team misses on a free agent, but Houston moved assets and still came up empty on Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony, lost Chandler Parsons and turned to Trevor Ariza as a save. We’re still waiting to see what happens with Eric Bledsoe and Phoenix.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest winner is obviously Cleveland. The biggest loser is Houston. Not only did the Rockets miss on the big free agents they were targeting, but they traded away their depth in order to do so. Defense and shooting should be priorities across the board, so Shawn Marion and Mo Williams are two available guys that could contribute meaningful minutes. Either would be a good fit in Houston and Williams could also help Atlanta’s backcourt. (For the record, my original answer was Anthony Tolliver, writing that he’d be a good fit with the Suns. Right after I sent that in, he agreed to terms with them.)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think it’s still a bit too early to declare an extended list of winners and losers. But there is no doubt the Cleveland Cavaliers came up in a major way with LeBron James deciding he was ready to come home. Anytime you score the No. 1 player on the planet, you’re the official winner of free agency. Surprisingly, the Heat rank high on my list. They rebounded nicely from losing LeBron by keeping Chris Bosh from going to Houston. The Bulls make my winners list, too, snagging Pau Gasol. The Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, two of the biggest aggressors for superstar players on the market this summer, came up empty. And while I love risk takers, they’ve landed themselves on top of the losers list for me. This list is fluid, though, and could continue to grow depending on how several teams finish off their free agent summers.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe loser has to be Houston. (Well, Miami, too, but other than that.) The Rockets gave away Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, and let Chandler Parsons go as well, all to clear room for Chris Bosh, who stayed in Miami. Then they overpaid (for a second time) Trevor Ariza to fill that void. For a winner, how about Washington? They lost Ariza but picked up Paul Pierce, who will be terrific to be in John Wall‘s ear for two seasons, at a completely reasonable price. I also like Atlanta getting Thabo Sefolosha, the Human Lisp, at a reasonable price, giving them two (with DeMarre Carroll) stoppers on the wings. And I love Memphis getting Vince Carter to fill that wing scoring void they’ve had forever.

Morning shootaround — July 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played July 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Hornets, Stephenson reach deal | Reports: Wolves, Warriors renew Love trade talks | Parsons clarifies comments about Houston | ‘The Greek Freak’ at point guard? | Silver: Clips sale may not happen soon

No. 1: Report: Stephenson headed to Hornets — The Charlotte Hornets opened free agency by taking a big swing at landing restricted free-agent swingman Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, but Utah matched the Hornets’ offer sheet last weekend. Swing No. 2 appears to be a success for the Hornets this time, though, as they have agreed to terms on a three-year deal with Indiana Pacers standout (and unrestricted free agent) Lance Stephenson, as first reported by Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. This marks a big loss for the Pacers — who had the best record in the East last season — but there had been talk that contract negotiations between Stephenson and Indiana had broken down of late. Bonnell has more on the move for Charlotte:

Following an all-night negotiating session, the Charlotte Hornets have come to an agreement to sign Indiana Pacers shooting guard Lance Stephenson, the Observer has learned.

Under terms of the agreement, Stephenson will make $9 million in 2014-15 and $9 million in 2015-16. Stephenson will get a slight raise in 2016-17 if the Hornets pick up the team option.

Stephenson fills an obvious need, as the Hornets were weak offensively at the shooting guard and small forward positions. The 6-foot-5 Stephenson had a breakthrough season statistically, averaging 13.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He also shot 49 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.

However, he has a quirky personality that seems to have limited his market when he became an unrestricted free agent July 1.

The Pacers had offered Stephenson $44 million over five seasons, and reportedly did not come off that number. Stephenson thought he was worth considerably more.

But the question becomes how Stephenson’s quirkiness might play out once he signs a lucrative contract extension. He famously blew in opponent LeBron James’ ear in the playoffs. He was fined for flopping this season and was charged with 14 technical fouls, fourth-most in the NBA.

It is not the Hornets’ habit to take frequent risks on high-maintenance players. Trading for Stephen Jackson worked out for two seasons before they traded him on to the Milwaukee Bucks. Now they have drafted P.J. Hairston, a player who lost his NCAA eligibility over improper benefits and who recently was cited for punching a teenager during a pickup game at a Durham YMCA.

Hornets owner Michael Jordan has said one of his team’s greatest strengths last season was the character of the players on the roster. Did that embolden the front office to pursue Stepehenson? Is Stephenson now a threat to that chemistry?

Certainly the Hornets faced competitive pressure in the Eastern Conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers improved dramatically with the addition of James, so that’s a non-playoff team in the East that now looks like a post-season lock. While the Heat lost James, they weakened the Hornets with the signing of Josh McRoberts.

It’s possible the Hornets would have struggled just to make the playoffs this season without upgrading the roster with a move like Stephenson.

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