Posts Tagged ‘Noah Vonleh’

Lillard, McCollum still need help from others in Game 2 vs. Clippers


VIDEO: Previewing Game 2 of Blazers-Clippers

LOS ANGELES — They’re used to it by now, the basketball world shedding pity on them for losing four starters from last season and giving them a nice pat on the head and a wish for good luck. The Portland Trail Blazers had fallen from the A-list to the B-list — that’s the treatment that greeted them in training camp. But the basketball then took a funny bounce and now here they are, playing in the postseason instead of preparing for the Draft lottery.

Plenty had to go right for Portland in order for it to defy the odds and get this far, namely, the coaching of Terry Stotts and the blurry backcourt play of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Those three played a huge role in leveraging the Blazers to 44 wins and getting the fawning respect of opponents for overachieving.

But is that enough to stop Blake Griffin, a power forward determined to embark on a redemption tour? And Chris Paul, the best current player never to escape the second round? And coach Doc Rivers, who’ll have lots of ‘splaining to do if the Clippers fold prematurely once again?

Maybe not. If anything, the Blazers find themselves back at training camp, in a sense, trying to dispel a notion that they don’t belong in the Big Boy’s Club after falling behind 1-0 in this series and getting punched in the gut in that game, to boot.

“There’s no question we have to play better,” said Lillard, in an understatement.

But is that really possible?

When LaMarcus Aldridge took his talents to the Alamo last summer, and Nicolas Batum was shipped to Charlotte, and gimpy Wesley Matthews signed in Dallas without much resistance from Portland, the Blazers lost the guts of their team. Yes, Lillard is a vastly under appreciated point guard — just ask him — and McCollum is soaring toward stardom one day. Together they’re capable of generating 60-plus points through scoring and assists. But small-ball, Blazers-style, might only take this team so far. And if Lillard and/or McCollum struggle, as they did in Game 1, this series will be quick.

So much depends on Portland’s starting backcourt to haul the load, perhaps more than any backcourt in the NBA. Together they had 30 points and 11 assists in Game 1; Paul had 28 and 11 himself. The Clippers are rotating well and making it hard on them and Rivers assigned Luc Mbah a Moute, an agile small forward, to check McCollum.

When the backcourt doesn’t play to near-maximum, it puts pressure on everyone else to produce, which is a problem because “everyone else” isn’t as playoff-tested. When the Blazers lost Aldridge and Batum, it weakened their front line. As much praise as GM Neil Olshey gets for re-tooling the Blazers, none of the players he acquired last summer has made a major impact. This is still a Lillard-McCollum production, and if anything, Stotts, more than Olshey, has been the front-office difference.

Al-Farouq Aminu is a poor shooter, Mason Plumlee is a banger at best, Gerald Henderson is a backup, Ed Davis is inconsistent and second-year forward Noah Vonleh doesn’t get much playing time. Those are the replacements for Aldridge (who was again an All-Star) and Batum (who has been key in Charlotte). Again, this was supposed to be a rebuilding year of sorts, and by saving their money the Blazers can be in play for free agents. But odds of the stripped-down Blazers duplicating their regular-season surprise here in the playoffs appears slim.

So the Clippers will continue to tighten up on McCollum and Lillard and dare the supporting cast to be a hero.

You’ve got to love how the Blazers regrouped after a hectic summer, won the hearts of Portland fans with their hustle, and created a winner out of nowhere. They might be the biggest surprise of the season. But unless Lillard, McCollum and Stotts can recreate magic for Game 2 tonight (10:30 ET, TNT) and also when this series shifts to Portland, this uplifting story is about to end.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry, the biggest entertainer of this generation? | Jerry Colangelo not ready to hand Kobe a Team USA spot | Paul Pierce speaks on the struggling Clippers

No. 1: Steph Curry, the biggest entertainer of this generation? Steph Curry is on the verge of winning back-to-back MVPs (and maybe championships) if this keeps up, as the Warriors rolled into Brooklyn for Sunday’s game riding a 21-game winning streak to start the season. And Steph is the league’s leading scorer — he had 44 against the Raptors on Saturday — and doing plenty to keep the Warriors in the win column. Question: Would you put him into the Hall of Fame right now if he suddenly retired? I had that discussion with a few writers the other day. Another question: Where does he rank, right now, in this generation? From an entertaining standpoint, Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News is ready to elevate Curry at or near the top:

That’s the unique power of what Curry is doing these days with the 20-0 Warriors — it’s far beyond his team affiliation or the normal demographics of this sport.

He’s NBA Elvis. Today’s Jesse Owens. He’s the new thing that blows away all existing limits and boundaries.

So yes, the victories are important. Last season’s championship and Curry’s MVP award were crowning milestones, no doubt.

And Curry’s poise and grace throughout it all — his connection to his teammates, coaches and fans — serve as the largest exclamation points to his ascension.

But as a cultural barometer, the specific Curry Moments — most recently, his incredible 28-point third-quarter performance Wednesday in Charlotte — are essentially stand-alone landmarks.

We watch. He plays. The night turns electric.

Brent Barry, a 14-year NBA veteran and now a national TV analyst, says his 9-year-old son asks him one thing every afternoon: “Is Steph playing tonight?” And on Wednesday they were another witness for Curry.

“He won’t miss games,” Barry said of his son, “just like Steph won’t miss shots.”

The NBA, of course, is not lacking for immense, compelling talents — starting with LeBron James and continuing through Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green and James Harden, among others.

But there is something different about Curry right now, in his prime (27, in his seventh NBA season) and accelerating his game well past even last season’s MVP dominance.

As future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett suggested a few weeks ago, Curry is treading upon sacred NBA territory — where only Michael Jordan recently has tread.

With Curry and the Warriors at the forefront, lethal long-distance shooting has become basketball’s most potent force, and Curry proves it every game. “Like Michael Jordan was a whole other thing, this guy is his own thing,” Garnett told reporters Nov. 12. “It’s beautiful for basketball.”

Curry, who scored 40 points in only 30 minutes on Wednesday, now has six games of 40 points or more this season. The last player to do that in his team’s first 20 games: Jordan in 1986.

But this is not close to the same thing, because Jordan and Curry represent different levels of NBA invincibility.

In his prime, Jordan attacked the rim and defied gravity; Curry seems to exist in a dimension without it.

He just calmly places himself and the basketball wherever he wants while all other players whirl and tumble haphazardly around him.

NBA legend Jerry West, a Warriors executive, said the most notable part of Curry’s career track is that he works so hard in the off-season and keeps taking enormous strides.

“I think he’s going to create a new kind of player to be honest with you,” West said. “I think before it’s all said and done, here’s a guy that’s going to make his own place in history in a completely different manner than these other players have done.”

****

No. 2:   Team USA boss Jerry Colangelo not ready to hand Kobe a spot — You would think there would be lots of sentiment to put Kobe Bryant on Team USA in Rio next year purely because, from an accomplishment standpoint, Kobe has earned the right to be seriously considered. Call it a career achievement award, and also, as an American, Kobe has been at the forefront of international basketball from an active player’s standpoint. Anyway, not so fast. Jerry Colangelo said Kobe must earn a spot, which is hard to imagine Kobe doing at this stage of his career. Sam Amick of USA Today sat down with Colangelo about Kobe:

Colangelo, who barely missed his chance to take Bryant in the 1996 draft when he was running the Phoenix Suns, certainly has a soft spot for the future Hall of Famer. He discusses not only the Olympic decision here, but their relationship and a few memories inspired by Bryant’s retirement announcement.

Colangelo on Bryant’s interest …

“When I was approached originally about Kobe’s interest in potentially playing in the Olympics — this goes back early last summer, I guess, or spring — and the concept being that it would be great to end a career, win a gold medal and ride off into the sunset. That was just thrown my way by his agent, Rob Pelinka. I just took it in and I said, ‘Rob, I don’t rule anyone out, but it has got to be based on performance because there’s so many people who want (to be on the team) — everyone wants to be on the roster.’ So he says, ‘Well, absolutely, and that’s how Kobe feels. He wants to earn it.’ Well then a month later, the two of us were in New York at an NBA function, and Kobe and I had a chance to visit, and we talked about the same thing. He reiterated his interest, but also the fact that he didn’t want any gifts, that he wanted to — if he wasn’t capable of earning it, by his performance, then that was that.

“So just recently, with his announcement of retirement, some people have come back to me (on the topic). Nothing has changed for me. Again, the same criteria exists, which is (a player’s performance) this season. So we’ll just look at this season. And I know where he has struggled, and it’s not the same…but there are some people having really outstanding years.”

On sacrificing a spot for Bryant based largely on the sentimental component and the fact that a) the 12th man won’t play much and b) Team USA will be heavily favored to win gold regardless of who fills that spot …

“Let’s just put it this way: on one hand, you have what you just proposed. On the other hand, if someone is left off the team, like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — and I’m just using names — for that purpose, then you have to weigh that fairness, to some degree. That’s all. So it’s not an easy call, and it’s one that I don’t have to make for quite some time. And I’m going to stick to that. I’ve got plenty of time. With out further ado …

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No. 3: Paul Pierce says the Clippers need time — We’re all surprised by the Clippers struggling in the West. This is a veteran team, one with a dynamic duo in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, one coached by Doc Rivers. And yet, Paul Pierce, the championship-tested forward who was brought in to add a killer mentality to the locker room, says the Clippers need time to get it right. Um, OK. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has more from The Truth:

The Clippers were 10-9 through Friday, 9½ games behind the undefeated Warriors. What’s more troubling is that the Clippers’ struggles have occurred despite a home-heavy schedule. Los Angeles has played the most home games in the NBA, yet it can’t gain any consistency, getting drubbed by Indiana on Wednesday after a three-game winning streak.

Pierce has seen this before. The 2009-10 Celtics were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference before making a run to the NBA Finals. He is hardly one to panic, but there appears to be so much pressure on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan (none of whom have played in an NBA Finals) to carry the Clippers to unprecedented heights.

“I know we got the talent in here, we got all the pieces to put it together,” Pierce said. “People don’t understand we put together eight, nine new players. So it’s not always going to be easy like the team we put together where the chemistry is there right away. We’re still trying to find our chemistry but we know that the talent is here and what we’re capable of.

“I think everybody understands that we’ve got the talent that could do something special.”

Pierce has been a team leader and voice of reason, attempting to hammer home the message that championships aren’t won in November and December, and slow starts are sometimes indicative of a team that needs more time to develop cohesion.

“We’re experiencing [tough times] but the key is not getting frustrated,” he said. “Not getting bored, not getting tired of one another. Just keeping everybody’s spirits up. It’s a long season. We’re going to be a different team in another month or two months from now and a different team once playoffs come. Understand that it’s a process.

“These guys are who they are but I’m still going to be me, get to practice early, get my shots up, get my weights in, that’s going to be me until I’m done.”

As in his previous two stops after 15 years in Boston — Brooklyn and Washington — Pierce is off to a slow start. He is shooting 31.8 percent from the field and averaging a career-low 4.8 points. Murmurs that Pierce was done could be heard last year with the Wizards before he warmed up in the second half of the season and became their best clutch shooter.

“Physically I feel great,” Pierce said. “Doc does a really good job; I haven’t played a lot of minutes. I haven’t had to really deal with the physical grind of the practices. My body feels good. I just want to be able to leave this game on two feet, walking straight.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards center Marcin Gortat will miss some time due to his mother’s illness … The Blazers are doing something bold and going with Noah Vonleh, who once was a lottery pick, as the starting power forward … Here’s a name to remember for Sixth Man of the Year candidate: Will Barton, who is turning heads in Denver … Meanwhile, the guy who might be the best at coming off the bench, Isaiah Thomas, has a big fan in Celtics coach Brad Stevens

Draft Day 2015 Rumblings

From NBA.com staff reports

The day many teams are hoping will be the one that helps jump-start their team in any number of directions is finally here — NBA Draft day. As we get into the day and through it, there will be plenty of news — some Draft-related, some trade-related, some about opt-ins and opt-outs and other news — that will come down the pike. This is your one-stop shop for all of it, so keep coming back all day (and night) for the latest buzz …

Update: 5:38 p.m. — Wardrobe Watch …

The fashion show that is Draft night is almost ready for take off. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell are suited up and ready to go …

Update: 4:25 p.m. — Report: Aldridge done with the Trail Blazers

Let the free agent craziness begin, almost a full week in advance. LaMarcus Aldridge, according to Bleacher Report, has informed the Portland Trail Blazers of what has been widely speculated for a while now. He is done with Portland and the Trail Blazers and ready to seek his fortune elsewhere in free agency …

Update: 4:10 p.m. — Frank the Tank … Moving on up?

Nothing is more fluid just hours before the actual Draft than the Draft projections that continue to cloud the picture. Count Frank Kaminsky among the last-minute climbers up Draft boards around the league, per TNT’s and our very own David Aldridge. Weeks ago Kaminsky was slotted as a late lottery and middle of the first round pick. But now he could go somewhere in the bottom of half of the top 10, if you believe the projections …

Update: 4:01 p.m. — Rockets make No. 18 pick available?

You cannot have Draft night without a little Daryl Morey/Houston Rockets intrigue. The Rockets want in on the LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love free agent sweepstakes and, according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, they’re using the No. 18 pick in the Draft to try and make some room …

Update: 3:26 p.m. — DMC still salty about trade talk

Give DeMarcus Cousins credit for handling his frustration about being involved in trade talks properly. The All-Star big man continues to vent without taking direct shots at anyone in particular. But it’s clear he remains unhappy with the way things are being handled …

Update: 3:19 p.m. — Celtics ready to move if Okafor falls

There are still some who believe in the power of the big man. The Boston Celtics are prepared to pounce on Jahlil Okafor if he slips out of the top two slots of the Draft tonight. They are willing to make Marcus Smart available in that “Godfather” offer to get it done, according to RealGM.  …

 

Update: 2:44 p.m. — Movement in Boston, Lakerland?

Two of the NBA’s most glamorous franchises — the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers — are in different stages of their rebuilding. According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, L.A. may not be leaning toward taking D’Angelo Russell as some have posited. As for the Celtics, Marc Stein of ESPN.com has more on their intentions …

Update: 2:07 p.m. — Update on DMC trade talk

Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins has been the focus of trade talks for the last few days and while the team’s front office has denied looking to deal him, chatter persists. Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee provides insight into how owner Vivek Ranadive is taking this drama …

Update, 2:04 p.m. — Warriors try to move up

We’ve heard about the Kings, Celtics and possibly Rockets trying to move up in the Draft tonight and you can add another name to that mix: the defending-champion Golden State Warriors …

Update, 1:48 p.m. — Barnes officially a Grizzly

It’s rare that one player is a part of two different deals in one day, but Luke Ridnour is just that kind of a guy. The Memphis Grizzlies officially picked up Matt Barnes from the Hornets by sending Ridnour to Charlotte — where he was hours later sent to OKC for Thunder guard Jeremy Lamb

Update, 1:25 p.m. — Ridnour trade official

Luke Ridnour is a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder now after the trade with the Charlotte Hornets went through this afternoon. Oklahoma City receives Ridnour and a conditional 2016 second-round pick while the Hornets get Jeremy Lamb

Update, 12:57 p.m. — Celtics ready ‘Godfather’ offer to get Okafor

Jahlil Okafor is apparently someone the Celtics have a very high opinion of, if you believe the latest buzz. According to Mike Cole of NESN.com, the Celtics have a ‘Godfather’ offer ready for the 76ers if Okafor doesn’t go No. 1 or No. 2 …

Update, 12:33 p.m. — Ridnour dealt (again)

Luke Ridnour hopefully didn’t unpack his suitcase since he got traded yesterday. He’s been involved in three trades in the last 24 hours and two today alone. His latest destination is Oklahoma City, where he is being dealt for guard Jeremy Lamb and a future second-round pick, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports …

Update, 12:14 p.m — One last Mock …

Our NBA Draft expert, Scott Howard-Cooper, is in New York and is ready to provide insight once the festivities get rolling. Until then, though, whet your appetite for the Draft with his Final 2015 Mock Draft …

Update, 11:53 a.m — Yes, players remember Draft-night snubs

Don’t ever believe it when a player says he doesn’t hold a grudge against a team for not drafting him. Hall of Famer Karl Malone is here to tell you otherwise …

Update, 11:50 a.m. — More trade chatter 

Sacramento and Boston continue to figure into the talks of potential Draft-night deals …

Update, 11:41 a.m. — Might Lakers upset Draft order?

Few are as well connected to what the L.A. Lakers might be thinking on Draft night than Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report. He wrote a column saying he thinks the Lakers are going to upset conventional thinking and take D’Angelo Russell No. 2 overall, and it has become a league talking point now …

Update, 11:22 a.m. — Jazz looking to trade Burke or Favors?

We had an item earlier this morning about how Utah is looking to move up in the Draft and, also, reunite with power forward Paul Millsap in free agency this summer. Here’s how it might go down, via Jody Gennesy of the Deseret News

Update, 11:15 a.m. — Celtics ready to move up

The common thinking is that Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor will go No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in tonight’s Draft. If, for some reason that doesn’t happen, the Boston Celtics are said to be ready with an enticing trade, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com …

Update, 10:56 a.m. — Teams wanting to move up

Four teams — the Thunder, Rockets, Celtics and perhaps Hawks — are most active right now in trying to raise their position in tonight’s Draft, per Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony

Update, 10:43 a.m. — Blazers thinking trade?

Portland has been a name on a lot of people’s lips today with the LaMarcus Aldridge chatter … is it eyeing a trade tonight that provides more big man bodies?

Update, 10:32 a.m. — Texas really wants Aldridge back

The Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets are all supposed to be in the mix to get free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ll all make their best free-agent pitches to him. And, it seems, a famous Texas hamburger chain wants him, too …

Update, 10:19 a.m. — Clarifying that Lamb trade

If you were confused by how the Hornets were able to trade for Matt Barnes after he was seemingly included in the deal last night that sent the Thunder’s Jeremy Lamb to OKC, you weren’t the only one. Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman clarifies that Lamb is still headed to Charlotte, but for a future second-round pick …

Update, 10:06 a.m. — Draft-night trade talk & tidbits

We’re waiting to see if anyone actually swaps picks today in the Draft, and according to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, there are a handful of squads interested in doing so …

Update, 9:50 a.m. — Ridnour, Barnes get dealt again

According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, two players who were traded just yesterday — Memphis’ Luke Ridnour and Charlotte’s Matt Barnes — are on the move again. They’re being swapped for each other, actually …

(more…)

Batum traded to Charlotte

Things didn’t end well for the Trail Blazers. Not with guard Wesley Matthews tearing an Achilles tendon in March. Not with Portland finishing the regular season on a four-game losing streak. Not with a meek exit in the first round of the playoffs with a 4-1 loss to the Grizzlies where the Blazers hardly competed.

It is no time to simply say things will get better next year, so the Blazers are stirring the pot by sending Nicolas Batum to Charlotte in exchange for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson.

The trade was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports

The Blazers have been shopping Batum in recent days, and the deal gives them an intriguing young player, Vonleh, who is 19 years old with significant talent and work ethic. Vonleh was Charlotte’s pick at No. 9 overall in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Henderson gives the Blazers a solid shooting guard to plug into the lineup with Arron Afflalo opting out of his contract.

For the Hornets, Batum is an athletic, playmaking wing that they’ve been searching for in trade proposals in recent days. He struggled last season, but enters a contract year with Charlotte.

The Blazers’ move could give them financial flexibility to re-sign their own free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.  It could also be a first hedge against his departure. This time last year, Aldridge said there was no question that he wanted to re-sign in Portland and finish his career by trying to break all of the Blazers team records.  But recent rumblings have Aldridge willing to listen to bids from his native Texas from the Spurs and Mavericks, as well as the Lakers.

Earlier Wednesday, Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported that the Blazers were one of several teams interested in free agent forward Kevin Love, who opted out of his contract in Cleveland.

Blogtable: Rookie on the rise

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 price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: All-Access at Summer League with Zach LaVine

> And, now that Summer League has finished, do you have a new favorite rookie you expect to be a sleeper this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel doesn’t count, right? He’ll be sneaking up on no one after his redshirt season. Phoenix’s T.J. Warren is no sleeper either, in my opinion, after all the buzz he generated this month. So I’ll keep an eye on Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, partly based on the versatility he demonstrated in Las Vegas and even more so on the opportunities he’ll get to shine as coach Flip Saunders proves how astutely POBO Flip Saunders drafted.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I came away really impressed with Doug McDermott, but I’m going with a guy I wrote about Tuesday, Minnesota’s brash, super-confident combo guard Zach LaVine out of UCLA. He’s 19 and has a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton. He quickly gained attention in Vegas for an array of acrobatic dunks, by he left Vegas revealing a high IQ, promising point guard skills and a fierce competitiveness.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comZach LaVine. Maybe it has something to do with seeing LaVine’s final game in Las Vegas from courtside, where all of his athleticism and raw skill was on display. I talked to several NBA decision-makers who are worried that LaVine is all hype and just a superior physical marvel and not polished enough to be an impact player. I disagree. I think he’ll shock some people with his versatility and readiness to step in and play quality minutes for the Timberwolves, who’ll need someone and something to get excited about if Kevin Love ends up leaving town before the trade deadline. LaVine struck me as much more than just a highlight waiting to happen on a fast break. There’s much more meat to his game than I realized. He’s not only my pick as a potential sleeper in this rookie class, he could wind up being the steal of this Draft.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There aren’t too many guys who were picked outside of the top 11 and will have a clear opportunity to play regular rotation minutes as rookies (well, except the Sixers’ second rounders, because the Sixers have only a few real players on their roster). Noah Vonleh could be a really good fit in Charlotte, sharing the power forward position with Marvin Williams on a playoff team. He shot just 28 percent in Summer League, but did so in Al Jefferson‘s role (posting up as the focal point of their offense). He’ll have an easier time playing off Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe best rookie I saw in person at Summer League was Minnesota’s Zach LaVine. His skills as a decision-maker weren’t anything special, but they won’t have to be if he’s playing alongside Ricky Rubio. His athleticism, however, was phenomenal, and I’d expect that to quickly set him apart from other players on the floor and give him an early advantage. If Love stays for a few months, perhaps LaVine will give the T-Wolves the jolt of energy/excitement they need to convince Love that they’re headed in the right direction and get him to opt-in for the long haul.

Morning shootaround – June 21


VIDEO: David Aldridge with the latest NBA news

NEWS OF THE MORNING
LeBron the next Rocket launcher? | Joel Embiid out 4-6 months | Love on the rocks | President Obama calls Pop | Lakers want Klay Thompson

No. 1: Rockets aiming for strike at LeBron — The Rockets still haven’t made it out of the first round 2009, but they’ve become very good at winning the summer. Two years ago they traded for James Harden and last summer signed Dwight Howard. Now they are reportedly prepared to chase hard after four-time MVP and two-time champion LeBron James if he opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat. How could the Rockets possibly afford another max salary? Howard Beck of Bleacher Report delivers the goods:

Given the extreme constraints imposed by the 2011 labor deal, it will be nearly impossible for any franchise to replicate the Heat’s roster-building feat of four years ago.

However, one franchise is quietly plotting to at least try to revive the Big Three model. And before you dismiss its chances of doing so, consider the fact that it’s the same team that stunned the NBA in each of the last two summers.

Now, Rockets officials are aiming for the trifecta, with their sights set on the biggest prize of all: LeBron Raymone James.

A long shot? Perhaps. But the Rockets have defied expectations before.

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

The competition for James’ affection will be fierce, but Houston’s pitch may be tough to beat.

The Rockets already have the league’s best guard-center tandem (Harden-Howard), solid young role players (Chandler Parsons, who is set to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones) and an owner (Les Alexander) who is willing to spend. Houston also has all of its first-round picks for the next couple of years as well as a knack for finding talent late in the draft.

Like Florida, Texas has no state income tax, negating Miami’s advantage on that front and giving the Rockets a big selling point in their pursuit of Anthony. (A player pays about 10 percent more in taxes in New York than in Texas.)

What the Rockets don’t have is salary-cap room. But they could clear about $19 million by unloading a few players, starting with Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, who are taking up a combined $16.7 million in cap space.

However, their contracts are unique and potentially difficult to move: Asik and Lin are each due a massive $15 million balloon payment next season, although they count as $8.37 million each for cap purposes. Then again, their contracts expire in 2015, so the commitment is minimal.

Sources say the Rockets are confident they can trade both players to teams with cap room and thus take back no salary in return.

 

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No. 2: Joel Embiid to miss 4-6 months after surgery — Now there is a timetable. Joel Embiid, the one-and-done center out of Kansas, who missed the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments with a back injury, will need four to six months to recover after having two screws inserted into the navicular bone of his right foot during surgery Friday. The injury has seemingly thrown the entire portion of the draft into chaos. Embiid was expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now he is expected to drop, with possible trade rumors also cropping up. ESPN.com provides more details on Embiid’s recovery:

Embiid’s agent, Arn Tellem, said in a statement that the former Kansas star underwent the procedure at Southern California Orthopedic Institute.

The surgeon, Dr. Richard Ferkel, said that Embiid “tolerated the surgery without difficulty” and claimed that the 7-foot center should “be able to return to NBA basketball.”

“Two screws were inserted into the navicular bone in Joel Embiid’s right foot,” Ferkel said in the statement released by Tellem. “The surgery went very well and I’m confident that after appropriate healing he will be able to return to NBA Basketball. Joel tolerated the surgery without difficulty and will begin his rehabilitation in the near future.”

Embiid is not attending Thursday’s NBA draft because he can’t fly for 10 days to two weeks post-surgery, Tellem said Thursday. Embiid was projected by many to be the first pick before the announcement of the surgery.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid already was dealing with health questions regarding his back, which forced him to miss the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments this past season.

He worked out earlier this month for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and sources said he fared well and that the medical testing also came back without much concern.

Embiid also participated in a one-on-none workout in front of NBA teams in Santa Monica, California. He was scheduled to work out for the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the second overall pick, later this week.

Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks this past season as a freshman at Kansas.

If Embiid slips significantly in the draft, he wouldn’t be able to recoup the money he’d lose. His total disability insurance policy was purchased through the school, according to Jim Marchiony, an associate athletic director at Kansas.

Marchiony confirmed that the school purchased a $5 million policy, the maximum allowed under the NCAA insurance program, through the NCAA Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund, which allows schools to apply for need-based assistance on behalf of its players.

The policy purchased through the NCAA program does not allow for loss-of-value insurance, a rider attached to insurance policies that permits athletes to collect if they fall far enough in the draft from their projected position at the time they sign the policy. Athletes can get loss-of-value policies, but they have to go outside the NCAA program to do so.

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No. 3: No clear path for Love — Clearly Kevin Love is no longer in love with the Timberwolves. And Timberwolves president and coach Flip Saunders is not necessarily in love with the bounty teams are offering for the All-Star power forward. While it seemed Minnesota might trade the double-double machine before the draft, they might keep him around and wait out better offers around next season’s trade deadline. Kurt Helin of ProBasketballTalk.com fleshed out the ongoing saga:

For Minnesota these talks are in a negotiation phase and they are in no rush to move on to the next steps.

Kevin Love’s agent Jeff Schwartz is serious and pushing to get his star moved sooner rather than later and to a destination Love wants to be long term. That’s where the pressure comes from. But it’s not just me saying Saunders doesn’t feel rushed.

Part of that is spin — the guy with the strongest positioning at any bargaining table is the guy willing to just walk away. Saunders wants everyone to think he will get up from the table. For now.

The only thing that has become clear is that Minnesota would prefer established players to picks and prospects — they don’t want to just rebuild, they want players who can help now.

Saunders is milking this as best as he can. In what are fluid talks with Golden State the Warriors had been hesitant to include Klay Thompson in a deal (although they should because it could be crippling against the cap for them to pay him what he’ll make on the open market). There is no deadline yet no reason to agree to anything right now. If the Warriors are offering David Lee and Thompson, ask for Draymond Green too. Or Harrison Barnes.

Saunders should do the same things with Denver and Boston and Chicago and anyone else interested in getting Kevin Love in a trade.

And if Saunders doesn’t get everything he wants on draft night, he can wait.

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No. 4: President Obama congratulates Popovich — Here’s another interesting tidbit when it comes to the Spurs’ success under coach Gregg Popovich: He took a congratulatory phone call Friday from President Barack Obama, the third U.S. president since San Antonio won its fifth title since 1999. Bill Clinton was in office when the Spurs started their run and they made three trips to the White House to visit George W. Bush following championships in 2003, ’05 and ’07 championships. The San Antonio Express-News has details of Obama’s call:

President Barack Obama gave coach Gregg Popovich a ring on Friday to laud the Spurs after crushing Miami in the Finals for their fifth NBA championship, the White House announced.

This afternoon, the President called San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to congratulate him on his team’s resounding victory in the NBA Finals. The President praised the selfless teamwork, clear focus, and steadfast determination displayed by the Spurs and noted how impressed he was by the record-setting scoring by the team. The President called Popovich one of the nation’s finest coaches and a role model for young men across the country, and he is looking forward to hosting the team at the White House.

It was no doubt a warm conversation given that Popovich contributed to Obama’s last campaign. As noted, the two will meet in person during the upcoming season when the White House hosts the Spurs.

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No. 5: Lakers offer No. 7 for Thompson — The Lakers, desperate to engage in a quick rebuild around Kobe Bryant, are interested in prying shooting guard Klay Thompson away from the Warriors in exchange for the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft. The proposed deal would be part of a bigger three-way trade that would send Minnesota’s Kevin Love to Golden State. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has the story:

The Lakers are interested but the deal has been put on hold because of a difference in opinion within the Warriors’ organization whether or not to keep Thompson while trying to obtain Love.

The Lakers are debating what to do with the pick if they hang onto it. They have sold or traded every first-round pick they’ve had since 2007 and do not have one next season because of the Steve Nash trade.

They are pondering whether to go with a power forward or point guard. They have narrowed their focus to big men Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle and Noah Vonleh or point guards Dante Exum, Marcus Smart and Elfrid Payton.

When free agency begins July 1, the Lakers will have only three players making guaranteed money next season — Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Robert Sacre. Point guard Kendall Marshall has one year left on a non-guaranteed contract.

A player on the rise such as Thompson would obviously provide more immediate return than an amateur player with no NBA experience.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Greek team Panathinaikos to make run at Jimmer Fredette? … Lakers would consider drafting EmbiidAndray Blatche opts out of his contract with Nets … Clippers assistant coach Alvin Gentry will join WarriorsClippers trio will opt out of final year … DeMarcus Cousins urges Rudy Gay to opt in and stay with Kings.