Posts Tagged ‘Omer Asik’

Countdown On Asik Deal Continues

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

Omer Asik (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

HANG TIME, TEXAS — If all goes according to plan, Omer Asik’s time in limbo should end soon as the Rockets sift through final offers for the disgruntled big man. The team has reportedly set a self-imposed deadline of Thursday.

According to various reports and different sources, the most likely places for the 27-year-old center to wind up in are Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland or Atlanta, with the Knicks making a late and outside bid to get into the mix.

Asik — who had a breakout year as a starter a year ago averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds– has wanted out of since the moment that Dwight Howard chose Houston in July and the Rockets have been looking to move him since coach Kevin McHale’s experiment with a Twin Towers type lineup ended on Nov. 13.

General manager Daryl Morey spread the word that he would entertain offers from Dec. 15-19 and make his choice. The reason for that narrow window is that Dec. 15 was the first date that players acquired during the offseason were eligible to be traded. Dec. 19 is the last date that any players obtained by the Rockets would be able to be dealt again at the Feb. 20 trade deadline.

Reports have had the Rockets seeking everything from a pair of first-round draft picks to forward Jeff Green of the Celtics to forward Paul Millsap of the Hawks.

Millsap is believed in many circles to be the Rockets’ No. 1 target, a perfect fit to play next to Howard on the front line. But the Hawks may be reluctant to surrender a high-return player after they just signed Millsap over the summer to a salary cap-friendly two-year deal for $19 million.

Discussions of Asik going to the Cavaliers for Anderson Varejao have supposedly cooled in recent days with Cleveland not warm to the idea of paying Asik’s $15-million salary next season.

The top two suitors could be the Celtics and the Sixers. That could produce a three-way deal.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics have entered the names of Green and Brandon Bass into discussions. The Sixers’ most likely to be traded are Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

While Green is averaging more than 16 points and four rebounds a game for Boston, the 12-14 Celtics, despite leading the Atlantic Division, are in a rebuilding mode. It wouldn’t hurt to unload a contract that still has $18.4 million due through 2016. If Hawes makes his way to Houston, he could come off the bench at center and also be valuable to the Rockets as a “stretch-four” with his ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sources around the league have indicated the Rockets would be willing to include point guard Jeremy Lin in any trade. But the fact that he is due virtually the same $15 million pay as Asik next season is a heavy burden for any one team to absorb. That would probably mean a three-team deal to make it happen.

However, if the Rockets were able to move both Asik and Lin and take back only expiring contracts and draft choices, it is possible they could have enough salary cap space to offer another max-level contract to a free agent next summer.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 16


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Celtics getting in Asik trade mix? | Granger, Pacers set return date | Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas | Lin to miss next game

No. 1: Report: Celtics getting into Asik sweepstakes? — In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their name out of the hat as a team interested in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik. (Basically, the Cavs would be interested in being part of a three-team deal for Asik, but don’t want him coming to Cleveland.) So where will Asik end up? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as a potential suitor for Asik, joining the Philadelphia 76ers (who remain the favorites to land Asik):

There is no hard proof yet to support the theory — first presented in this tweet from my USA Today colleague Sam Amick — that the Houston Rockets already have a trade framework in place to solve their Asik conundrum and are only waiting to see if someone else out there steps up to beat the mystery offer between now and Houston’s self-imposed Thursday deadline to deal Asik.

However …

While strong rumbles persist that the Philadelphia 76ers are the team most likely to go along with such an arrangement, given the close ties between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Philly counterpart Sam Hinkie, there’s fresh talk in circulation about another potential co-conspirator.

The Boston Celtics.

The advice offered to us on Sunday was stern: Keep an eye on Boston. The Celtics possess two players in different salary ranges that would presumably fit in useful ways next to Dwight Howard: Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. The Celts also have a spare first-round draft pick or two to plug into any trade equation to sweeten the deal for Houston, amid rising suspicions around the league that Morey’s Rockets are going to find a way to come out of the Asik saga with at least one future first.

The same Rockets who happen to have a GM (Morey) and coach (Kevin McHale) who have long-standing relationships with Celts president Danny Ainge.

So, yes, I’d say you should keep an eye on Boston.

Question here that must be asked loudly: Can Houston, in whichever Asik trade it ultimately chooses, really afford to take back a player possessing substantial long-term money like Green (two seasons at $18.4 million after this one) or Philly’s Thaddeus Young (two seasons at $19.4 million after this one) when it knows it’s going to have to give an extension bump to Chandler Parsons as soon as Parsons is eligible for the raise his play merits via extension?

Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be surprised if Young gets routed to a third team should the Rockets and Sixers officially join forces to construct an Asik deal, as some observers have been expecting all month.


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge addresses the Omer Asik rumors and more

***

No. 2: Pacers, Granger set target return date — Just last week — before the much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown in Indianapolis — injured Pacers forward Danny Granger said he pondered returning for that game, but ruled it out so as not to put the spotlight on himself over the team. On Friday, Granger ruled himself out of the Pacers’ home game with the Charlotte Bobcats, but said he was closer than ever to a return. Indiana now is hoping for an early Christmas present as Granger is planning on a Dec. 20 return, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:

Might this finally be the week that Danny Granger makes his anticipated season debut? That’s the plan right now for the Pacers.

“I was waiting for the Danny Granger [question],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger. We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practices goes.”

Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

“I had a good practice today,” Granger said. “It’s really just fine-tuning my game, honestly. Making sure my timing is on, making sure I know all the plays. That’s a big thing when you haven’t played in awhile. I know the plays but I haven’t repped through the plays like all the other guys constantly get a lot of reps through the plays.”

Granger said he and coach Vogel are always on the same page, and that both agreed that he needed more practice time before putting on his game uniform.

“Me and Frank talk after practice — he’ll call me in or he’ll call me over,” said Granger. “Just because I said ‘Hopefully I can play on Friday,’ I was thinking hopefully. And then when I came and I practiced, and I dribbled the ball off my foot twice and I shot an airball on a layup, me and Frank met again and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ ”

Now in his ninth NBA season, Granger has typically been a slow starter. It’s fair to expect that again, though he doesn’t anticipate it.

“In the past in preseason, I always would tinker with different things in my game,” he explained. “I always used it as a time to do the things you’re good at, but just experiment with other things and notoriously I would always have a slow start. I’m trying to avoid that this year.

“I don’t know if (fans) think we’re just machines that you just turn on and all of sudden we’re playing in rhythm. Every basketball player is a rhythm player. It’s takes awhile. That’s why we have a preseason.

“I’m hoping the practices that I’ve been getting now, and the playing that I’ve been getting now is very similar to what I will do in a game. Obviously, when you get in a game you got adrenaline that you have to account for and that changes things a little bit. Just me practicing fullcourt, playing everyday, playing one-on-one, shooting a lot of shots, doing ball handling drills, I’m hoping that’ll be my time where I can get some of these kinks out.”

The team’s medical staff continues to keep a close eye on Granger.

“They’re not out of it,” said Vogel. “They’re still very much involved because part of the final process of recovery from a calf strain is, is his body going to respond to the extra work? Is the calf going to flare up? They’re still checking it everyday and not ruling him 100 percent healthy until they see he can go through added work and the calf can still respond the right way.”

Should Granger step onto the floor Friday night, as hoped, it’ll be his first regular-season appearance since March 3, when he left the game (also against the Bulls) due to soreness in his left knee, which kept him out all but five games last season. The knee is really good, according to Granger, and he’s motivated more than ever to return to game action.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger addresses is potential return on Dec. 20

***

No. 3: Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks signed big man Samuel Dalembert in the offseason in hopes of seeing him provide the kind of interior defense and paint protection that Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs during their run to the title in 2011. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as Dalembert has gone from starting 16 of Dallas’ first 19 games to seeing his minutes cut as coach Rick Carlisle has given DeJuan Blair the starting job. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more on how the return of Brandan Wright may force Dalembert even further out of the rotation:

The return of Brandan Wright had a ripple effect on the Mavericks’ interior rotation, though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Saturday night because Dallas was playing without Dirk Nowitzki.

On this night, at least, Samuel Dalembert dropped to fourth-team center, behind starter DeJuan Blair, second-teamer Brandan Wright and late third-quarter sub Bernard James.

Dalembert started 17 of Dallas’ first 18 games, but Saturday marked Blair’s sixth straight start. Dalembert did not play.

Dalembert, who as a free agent signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract over the summer, is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.

“He’s shown his moments,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I just don’t think he’s been in a position where he’s been expected to perform to help a team win since his first or second years.”

Last season, the Mavericks signed Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million contract and anointed him the starter. Though he wound up starting 52 games, his minutes decreased as the season wore on and so, it appeared, did Kaman’s effort level.

In other words, rather than inspiring Kaman, cutting his minutes seemed to have an adverse effect. Are the Mavericks concerned the same will happen with Dalembert?

“No, I think Sam is the exact opposite,” Cuban said. “Sam is figuring out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed in himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well. He wants to get better.”

***

No. 4: Rockets’ Lin expected to miss game vs. Bulls — A knee injury in November kept point guard Jeremy Lin from the Rockets’ lineup for six games. Although he returned to play in Friday’s win over Golden State, he suffered a back injury when he collided with Warriors big man Andrew Bogut. Lin sat out last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings and seems sure to miss Houston’s date with Chicago this week, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut.

Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee.

Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out.

In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out.

“I only played him 14 or 15 minutes in Portland because you could tell he was out of rhythm,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The game kind of dictates your substitution patterns, … but I certainly made an effort against Golden State to get him more minutes. He needs to get in a rhythm.

“We’re disappointed that he’s out, not nearly as disappointed as he is, I’m sure.”

Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat might be looking to work a trade for the Celtics’ Jordan Crawford … Good look at how rookie point guard Trey Burke has proven to be worth the Draft-day gamble for the Jazz … Magic rookie swingman Victor Oladipo got some preseason pointers from fellow a guy he long looked up to: fellow D.C.-area star Kevin Durant

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You all know we love Kenneth Faried around these parts, so here’s the latest must-see alley-oop from “The Manimal” last night …


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried gets up high to finish off the Randy Foye alley-oop

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

One trainer helps mold NBA’s superstars | Bulls’ offense hits new lows in loss to Knicks | Report: Asik changes agents

No. 1: Meet the NBA’s trainer to the stars — From Derrick Rose to Kevin Durant to Kevin Love to Steph Curry (and many others), making the leap from good young player to bona fide superstar or even MVP honors comes from hours of work away from the spotlight. One common thread between all of these players is the man they’ve hired as their trainer, Rob McClanaghan. McClanaghan has helped mold, rebuild or deepen each player’s game in one way or another and in a great feature from Yahoo!Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, we get a look at precisely how he helped these players reach the next level in their games:

Long before Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose could resume a relentless rehabilitation regimen, the youngest MVP in NBA history and Rob McClanaghan had to go back beyond all the fierce workouts – beyond the thousands of hours of shooting and slashing and sweat – and resume the most fundamental of grade school drills: form shooting.”One hand, elbow in, eyes on the rim,” McClanaghan remembered over dinner recently. “I think it was more mentally taxing on him than anything we did, because D-Rose always wanted to do more. My job was simply to tell him, ‘Be patient. We have time.’ “

Beginning over 18 months ago, shuttling between Chicago and Los Angeles, McClanaghan and Rose progressively did more and more. Once Rose had missed a full season and returned to the gymnasium in June, McClanaghan told him simply: “I’m going to work you out like you never got injured. Let’s go back to what we did before you ever get hurt.”

From his predraft workouts at the University Memphis to his MVP season with the Bulls, Rose has relied on McClanaghan to run his workouts, sharpen his skills and bring him back from the abyss of a torn ACL. Once again, with a torn meniscus costing Rose the rest of this season, they will return to the gymnasium together on the star’s jagged journey back.

When Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love needed the summer of his life to restore him to All-Star status, Love was back with McClanaghan, his long-time trainer, in Los Angeles.

When Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant wanted to wash away the frustration of an early exit in the playoffs, he came to McClanaghan for a summer of early morning and evening workouts. When endorsement travels sent Durant overseas for a promotional tour, he brought McClanaghan with him. Golden State guard Stephen Curry left his old trainer and hired McClanaghan.

In trying times for the NBA’s biggest basketball stars, at their most crucial crossroads, it is uncanny how they keep coming back with McClanaghan for the crux of the work growing their talents.

From a consistent presence in players’ lives to a solitary companion in rehab processes to the fixer of lost souls and games, McClanaghan has transformed himself into one of the most influential figures in pro basketball. When the next wave of college stars declare for the 2014 NBA draft, it’s almost assured agents will hire McClanaghan to oversee the preparation process for several of them.

McClanaghan became the primary trainer for several of [Arn] Tellem‘s clients, including Rose, Westbrook, Atlanta’s Al Horford and New Orleans’ Tyreke Evans. McClanaghan ran the predraft workout training for dozens and dozens of players, and soon referrals had him working with stars outside Tellem’s stable. There isn’t a general manager, or few high-profile coaches, who haven’t sat in the gym for McClanaghan’s workouts.

In the past year, McClanaghan parted with Tellem and has gone out on his own. When troubled free agent Lamar Odom needed two weeks of intense work to springboard his comeback, his advisers flew him to Rhode Island to work with McClanaghan.

In the end, his most profound influence comes working with superstar players. Over the past several summers, the balance of power in the NBA played out in McClanaghan’s gym in Santa Monica. And in a lot of ways, his court turned into comeback and redemption central in the summer of 2013.

“One of the best summers we ever had,” McClanaghan said. “Derrick is coming off his injury, K.D. is coming off a disappointing end to his team’s season, Kevin Love and John Wall are coming off injuries and they just came in there and killed it.

“What makes it so incredible is that the way the very best players bring it every day in the gym. There’s an aura to it, a level of competition that I think can be intimidating to other players who come and work out there. If you don’t bring it like them, you may get called out. They will bring it harder than the guys who are free agents, who are fighting to stay in the league. And sometimes I think lesser-talented guys don’t come to the gym because of that. They ask themselves, “Do I want to work that hard? Do I want to bring it?’


VIDEO: McClanaghan talks with The Beat crew about his high-profile clients

***

No. 2: Bulls’ offense continues to sputter in loss to Knicks — In case you were wondering, the last time the Chicago Bulls failed to score at least 80 points in three straight games — a slump they’re currently in — it took place back in 2001 … the height of the post-Michael Jordan rebuilding years. With last night’s loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Chicago finds itself in 14th place in the East and stumbling fast. Bulls.com blogger Sam Smith details the issues with Chicago of late:

Give the Bulls this: They were hustling and still running despite having to play so much and so long and with so little help. They were going to the floor for loose balls and fighting over screens. But defense and rebounding doesn’t add any points to the total.

Mike Dunleavy is regarded more as a catch and shoot scorer. But with Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Jimmy Butler out, Dunleavy has basically emerged as the lone offensive option.

But noticing the Bulls not only weren’t making outside shots or even preferring to take them, the Knicks as the Bucks did basically sunk into the lane and invited the Bulls players to shoot. It’s also why the turnover numbers remained astronomical and are difficult to remedy for now.

If you cannot make shots or pose a threat to, then the defense sags back into the lane. That closes off passing lanes and reduces the spacing. The Bulls are a good passing team and always looking for the extra pass, the interior pass, the backdoor. But with five defenders basically inside, there’s little room to get a pass through and lots of ways to create turnovers. The postups for Gibson and Carlos Boozer, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds, are thus also clogged. And there isn’t always a lot of active movement to spread the defense, not that they’re biting that someone might actually make a long shot.

The Bulls, 8-12 and two and a half games ahead of New York for 14th in the Eastern Conference, in back to back nights lost to the teams with the two poorest records in the Eastern Conference. Of course, they have also beaten the only two teams in the Eastern Conference with winning records, Indiana and Miami.

“I think that we showed some fight tonight,” said Joakim Noah. “We just got to stick together as a team. We’ve been losing a lot of tough games right now, but we can’t pout. We have to stick together through the hard times. We’ve got some guys coming back. Keep grinding and I know this is going to turn around. It’s tough. Losing sucks. We’ve been through a lot this year. A lot of adversity. But I think that we have a positive group. You can’t get too down on yourself. We’ve just got to move on to the next game. As guys come back, as guys understand what their roles are, our team will be a lot better.”

It has been perhaps the most frustrating and ineffective stretch of basketball for the Bulls in more than a decade with the loss of Rose, multiple injuries, a vanishing offense and a series of last second losses.

But in the end, as furious and fearless as they were on defense, that’s how mostly inept and incomplete they Bulls were on offense as after tying the game with 3:38 left the Bulls didn’t score again until there was 10.8 seconds left and they trailed by seven points.

“Part of the problem is we have a lot of moving parts so we have guys who are not used to playing with each other,” said Tom Thibodeau. “But we can’t use that as an excuse.”

***

No. 3: Report: Frustrated Asik switches agents — Rockets center Omer Asik has been waiting for weeks, seemingly, to find out where he will be traded to. As he endures the trade rumors associated with his name and potential deal being bandied about, Asik will have a new agent filtering the news for him. According to CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, Asik has switched to the mega-group led by agent Arn Tellem:

Disgruntled Rockets center Omer Asik is changing agents, switching from Andy Miller to Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group, league sources told CBSSports.com on Tuesday.

Asik’s decision to change agents was first reported on Twitter by the Turkish basketball site Superbasket.org. He must submit paperwork to the National Basketball Players Association to formalize the change, and then Tellem must wait 10 days before commencing representation.

Asik has been unhappy with his role in Houston since the Rockets signed Dwight Howard as a free agent this past summer. He has made a formal trade request, and Rockets GM Daryl Morey has been ramping up his efforts to trade him. Asik was lured away from the Bulls as a restricted free agent in 2012 with a three-year, $25 million deal. The actual payout on the third year of the deal next season is $15 million, which could be a deterrent to consummating a deal.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A good look at why Jeff Van Gundy didn’t call last night’s Bulls-Knicks game in New York … Speaking of Chicago, reports indicate they will soon sign guard D.J. Augustin to a deal … Clippers reserve forward Antawn Jamison passed the 20,000 point mark in his career

ICYMI Of The Night: Lob City’s crew is known for their power finishes, so when they have a rare miscue (like this one from DeAndre Jordan), it’s worth a look …


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan’s attempt to finish the lob gets stuck between the rim and the backboard

Countdown To Asik Shopping Days

Omer Asik has not been happy in Houston since Dwight Howard came along. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

Omer Asik has not been happy in Houston since Dwight Howard came along. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

The frenzy of Black Friday has already faded into memory at your local mall, but the shopping days for Omer Asik are likely about to come to a full boil.

Just don’t expect the Rockets to be offering one of those “door-buster” specials for the 7-footer center. Houston is still hoping to land a pair of first-round draft picks or a rising young talent at power forward and a pick.

It’s been the league’s worst-kept secret that the Turkish big man would be moved ever since Asik told coach Kevin McHale he was not up to playing on Nov. 14 in New York the night after he got just four minutes of playing time at Philadelphia.

According to ESPN’s Mark Stein, the Rockets have spread the word that they intend to make a deal in the period between Dec. 15-19.

The significance of such a specific window is two-fold. Dec. 15 is the first day players who signed new contracts in the offseason can be plugged into trades, and Dec. 19 is the last day any player acquired by Houston in an Asik deal can be repackaged with other players before the league’s Feb. 20 trade deadline.

The calls made by the Rockets on Friday are reminiscent of their approach with Thomas Robinson during the draft in June.

It was an open secret that the Rockets would trade Robinson to help clear salary-cap space for their pursuit of Dwight Howard. Taking this step with Asik is in essence an attempt to persuade potential suitors to put their best offer on the table quickly now that the Rockets have established such an exact time frame for trying to complete a trade.

The Rockets signed Asik away from the Bulls as a free agent in the summer of 2012 to a three-year, $25 million deal and he started all 82 games last season in Houston, averaging a double-double of 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.

While his offensive range is quite limited, Asik is a solid low post defender, protects the basket well and can gobble up his share of rebounds. He is the kind of big man that could shore up the middle on any number of would-be playoff teams and contenders.

Because of those abilities, the Rockets have insisted all along that they get top level compensation in any deal, but the fact that he wants out of Houston has reduced their leveage.

Asik’s discontent began on the same day the jubilant Rockets announced they had won the Howard derby last summer. With the arrival of the All-Star center in Houston, the 27-year-old Asik knew that his days as the anchor in the middle of the lineup were over. It was reported that Asik immediately asked to be traded.

McHale insisted that there was a way for the two big men to play side-by-side and the Rockets opened the season with Asik at center and Howard at power forward for the first eight games. The combination struggled to generate consistent offense and was not nearly as effective on defense as was expected.

Though he has not commented publicly for fear of being fined by the NBA, Asik and his agent Andy Miller have repeated their request for the Rockets to trade the big man.

So the countdown to the Asik shopping days begins.

Howard Says Rockets Lacking Effort


VIDEO: Dwight Howard talks about the Rockets’ loss to the Suns

 

HOUSTON — From the moment the Rockets hit the free agent jackpot with Dwight Howard last summer and put him in the lineup with James Harden, there were always going to be questions about how they would put it all together and how long it might take.

Those questions were not supposed to be about how hard they would try.

“[Expletive] effort out there on defense and on offense,” said Howard. “The ball stuck … We didn’t move it and we can’t win that way.”

Bumps in the road over the course of the long regular season are to be expected, but the Rockets have now run head-long into a boulder of indifference as a 97-88 home loss to the Suns Wednesday night came on the heels of a virtual no-show trip to Utah on Monday.

“It had nothing to do with us missing shots,” Howard said. “They just played harder than us…It had nothing to do with the offensive game. They just played hard.

“We know what we [have to] do. It’s gotta be important for guys to come out and play the same way every night.”

The Rockets were shorthanded without Chandler Parsons (sore back), Jeremy Lin (sprained right knee), Omer Asik (right thigh contusion) and Greg Smith (sprained right knee). But neither Howard or coach Kevin McHale, who kept the locker room closed for 20 minutes after the game, would accept that out.

“You still have to play,” McHale said. “I don’t care who’s not there. You just [have to] go play and we didn’t play the right way.

“We didn’t move the ball. We didn’t move our bodies. They got up on us and started denying passes. We didn’t go backdoor. We didn’t drive all the scenes. When we did drive, we took wild shots…We did not play very good and that’s the bottom line.”


VIDEO:Coach Kevin McHale discusses the Rockets’ loss to Phoenix

The team’s leading scorer Harden shot just 3-for-17, including 0-for-10 from behind the 3-point line and bailed out early from the locker room after speaking only to team employees.

The Rockets were uninspired from the opening tip and never seemed able — or willing — to match the Suns energy or aggression and it was the fact that it was a virtual repeat of nonchalance that carried over from the loss to the Jazz that bothered Howard, who scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

“We can’t give away games like this,” Howard said. “It will come back and bite us later on in the season. So we got to learn no matter how many guys we got out there, short-handed and all, we got to play the same way — play hard and play aggressive.

“It’s just [has to] be in you. You can’t coach it. You can’t draw up plays or anything like that. You just gotta have it.”

Howard would not reveal what the obviously distressed McHale told the team.

“We keep that between us,” said the All-Star center. “We know what we got to do. We don’t do it, we’re [going to] continue to lose.

“We got to learn when we’re down. We got to learn how to play when we got big leads. It’s something that we got to learn how to do. We got to get a good shot every time. Coming down and shooting quick shots is not always good, especially when you’re down. That gives a team like Phoenix an opportunity to run. That’s what they want to do. We played right into their hands tonight.”

It is only the second time this season that the Rockets have lost back-to-back games and, at 13-7, they are still the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. So it was less a blaring alarm bell than a humming undercurrent reminder that a wannabe playoff contender needs more than summertime signings and headlines to turn into the real thing.

“It happens,” Howard said. “I told you guys a couple weeks ago the season is up and down. You go on runs. You have those games where you miss and you lose a couple of games. But the biggest thing is coming back the next game with a better effort and if not, then we got to take an ‘L’ for us to learn.”


VIDEO: Houston’s Dwight Howard fights through the defense for the jam

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Knicks continue to struggle | Report: Rockets want 2 first-rounders for Asik | Hollins wants another NBA coaching gig | D’Antoni pushing Young for Sixth Man honors | Beasley finding a role in Miami

No. 1: Arguments mark Knicks’ latest loss — At 3-13 and with nine straight losses to their name, the New York Knicks are the coldest team in the Eastern Conference and sit tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the conference’s worst record. In short, it’s not pretty for New York right now and things were particularly unpleasant last night at the Garden, when in the course of losing to the New Orleans Pelicans, Knicks guard Iman Shumpert got into on-court arguments with both rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and leading scorer Carmelo Anthony. Marc Berman of the New York Post details that tiff, while in another report, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Begley has some telling words from Anthony and coach Mike Woodson on New  York’s slump:

A shouting match with Carmelo Anthony and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.’s breakout game may have pushed Iman Shumpert closer to the door.

Hardaway is fighting for playing time with Shumpert, who got into a heated rant with Anthony on the Knicks bench during a third-quarter timeout. Anthony didn’t look at him as Shumpert raved. Shumpert, who was then benched for the fourth quarter of the 103-99 loss to the Pelicans, called his tiff with Anthony “a miscommunication’’ on defense.

“Of course I wanted to play,’’ Shumpert said. “Tim was making shots. J.R. [Smith] had it rolling. We were just trying to get a win.’’

Anthony declined to talk about Shumpert, who has been on the trading block since the middle of last month. Trades usually pick up Dec. 15, because free agents signed over the summer and draft picks can be dealt.

Anthony and Woodson both think the Knicks have been playing ‘not to lose’ of late and that the losing streak has affected New York in several ways:

Shortly after the New York Knicks dropped their ninth-straight game, star forward Carmelo Anthony said the team is “playing to lose” and appears “a little tense” as the losses pile up.

“I think we’re playing to lose rather than playing to win right now,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ 103-99 loss to New Orleans on Sunday. “When you lose games the way we’ve been losing them at home, on the road, you start thinking a lot. You start playing a little tense, you start playing on your heels.”

“We just can’t seem to get it together,” Anthony said after scoring 23 points and grabbing ten rebounds. “We can’t seem to figure it out.”

The Knicks’ last home win was Oct. 30 against Milwaukee in the season opener.

Head coach Mike Woodson admitted the obvious when he said the losing streak is weighing on his players.

“I thought coming down the stretch, we played on our heels. The [eight-game losing streak] we were looking at here was staring at us in the face [and] instead of relaxing and just playing, we just didn’t make one play,” Woodson said.

The Knicks have held two closed-door meetings in the past three weeks to try to turn things around. Anthony isn’t sure if another one will help.

“I don’t know what we have to do as far as coming together as a group,” Anthony said. “I don’t know if we’ve got to sit here for hours and talk and get it all out, but we’ve got to do something.”

Anthony said earlier this week that he worried about his team going into a “dark place.” He doesn’t think the Knicks are there yet.

“Anytime you’re fighting an uphill battle, you feel like you’re in a dark place. But we can’t go to that place,” he said. “I’ve never been to that place. I don’t plan on getting to that place.”

Firings and trades aside, Anthony believes the bigger issue for the Knicks right now is a lack of identity.

“Last year around this time we had our identity as who we were as a team,” he said. “This year we’re still searching who we are as a team and who we’re going to be as a team.”


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony discusses New York’s loss to the Pelicans, nine-game slump

***

No. 2: Report: Rockets want two first-rounders in Asik tradesOmer Asik has worked his way back into Houston’s playing rotation, logging 20 minutes in the Rockets’ thrilling win over the Spurs on Saturday night. However, Asik continues to be a popular name on the trading block and seems all-but certain to be dealt at some point this season. What the Rockets are apparently asking for Asik, though, might make the kind of deal they want hard to come by. Alan Hahn of MSG Networks explains and provides a bit of Knicks slant on any possible deal, too:

The name that is dominating the early rumors is Omer Asik of the Rockets. The disgruntled center can be had, but Houston isn’t just giving him away.

In fact, the Rockets are setting the market high for Asik, with a demand of two first round picks in any deal.

That eliminates the Knicks, who have given away enough first rounders over the last few years. They can’t move one until 2018.

Even if they did, Asik’s luxury tax hit next season is the same as Jeremy Lin‘s ($15 million), which would make it an expensive transaction.

It’s more likely the Knicks will target more of an “energy” big, if they can land one. Kenneth Faried, a recently rumored name, certainly would fit that mold, but the Nuggets have shown no interest in making a deal.

The Knicks, like many teams in the league, could use an upgrade at the point guard position but that’s like shopping for a BMW with a Kia budget.

And the competitive market for point guards has gone up even more now that the Bulls are shopping hastily for one in the wake of Derrick Rose‘s season-ending injury.

***

No. 3: Hollins turned down chance to be assistant in Detroit — After being fired by the Memphis Grizzlies following a 56-win season and a berth in the 2013 Western Conference finals, coach Lionel Hollins has spent his down time playing golf, putting in some work for NBA TV and watching his son, Austin, play at the University of Minnesota. In an extended, insightful interview with ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne, Hollins talks about his desire to coach again in the NBA and how he passed on a chance to be an assistant in Detroit this season:

Nice as the time off has been, however, Hollins is ready to return to the NBA.

“I believe I’ve established myself as a head coach and I’d like another opportunity to show that [my success] wasn’t a fluke,” Hollins said. “I feel like I’ve proven I can take a young team and develop it, then sustain what I’ve done by what I did in the last five years in Memphis.”

Hollins was let go by the Grizzlies despite winning a franchise-record 56 games and leading Memphis to its first Western Conference Finals appearance last season. The reasons were philosophical in nature, after a season in which Hollins didn’t always publicly embrace the moves or direction set by the Grizzlies’ new ownership and front office.

“We want to have the kind of organization where we get people in a room … who are going to disagree about what we should do and what the personnel moves should be,” Grizzlies president Jason Levien said in a radio interview with WHBQ after Hollins was let go. “We want to really dig in and get messy when we’re in that room talking about what the decision and direction should be. And then once we come to a decision, whatever that personnel decision is, we want to walk out of the room arm-in-arm, locked together in how we’re going to proceed.”

Hollins, who still makes his home in Memphis, declined to comment about his exit from the Grizzlies. He said that he has tried to keep a distance from his former players as well, out of respect for new coach Dave Joerger, who was an assistant for him last season. He occasionally runs into Tony Allen, whose wife is close with Hollins’ wife. He also sent a text message to center Marc Gasol recently, after he suffered a knee injury.

But mostly, he said he’s tried to move on with his life and career.

“I think Marc [Gasol] said it best, ‘It was odd knowing — from his perspective — that I wasn’t going to be there,’ ” Hollins said. “And from my perspective, it was odd knowing that we weren’t going to add a few pieces and build on what we’d already established. We were at a level where we needed to add the right pieces in order for us to take another leap. So it was just odd not being there and planning and going through the whole process that we normally do every summer with our young players, starting with the draft and then summer league and then the workouts that we have all summer, with players coming in and out. You get away from that routine. …

“I was antsy when training camp started. But once they started playing, I was comfortable not being there. I get to watch a lot of basketball on TV. And now I’ve gotten to re-evaluate what I like to do and what I want to do.”

Over the summer, Hollins said he had an opportunity to join Maurice Cheeks‘ staff with the Detroit Pistons as an assistant coach but declined.

“I had done it [serve as an assistant coach] for a long time before I was given the opportunity to be a head coach,” Hollins said. “But my thought process was, ‘I’ve established myself as a head coach. I’d like to stay in that state at the moment.’ But if it didn’t work out, yeah, I’d go back and be an assistant coach. I’d go to college and be a head coach there, if I had the opportunity. But my thought process is to be a professional head coach.”

***

No. 4: D’Antoni hyping Young for Sixth Man of Year honors — Swingman Nick Young is averaging 14.2 ppg this season, only .1 ppg behind team leader Pau Gasol for the No. 1 spot on the Lakers. But while Gasol has started all 18 games for the Lakers this season, Young has notched just six starts, doing most of his damage off the bench. That big scoring punch and his vital role in L.A.’s offense has coach Mike D’Antoni starting some early buzz for Young in the Sixth Man of the Year campaign, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Within a two-month span, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has viewed Nick Young as a a streaky shooter and inconsistent defender to a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.

“He should. If we can get our record [good],” D’Antoni said. “That’s going to be the product of the team. He’s playing well enough. But if we surprise people, get in the playoffs and do really well, yeah, he’ll have a really good chance at it.”

Ever since D’Antoni demoted him as a starting small forward to a reserve, Young has jokingly touted himself as a sixth man of the year candidate. Young has backed up those words said in jest with his play. Young has averaged 16.5 points on 47.4 percent shooting in 27.1 minutes through 11 games as a reserve.

“I’m loving it with his concentration and ability not to take a play off,” D’Antoni said. “We have a few guys who have home run trots and were not engaged. But for the most part, most guys have gotten that out of their game. They’re engaged. A lot of that is due to the chemistry of the team and how they feel about themselves. We can keep getting better. He’s playing both ends of the floor. He’s playing phenomenally.”

So much that Young has slightly altered his nickname.

“As he says, he’s changed his name to ‘Swaggy D,’” D’Antoni said with a smile. “We’ll see how that holds up.”

***

No. 5: Heat finding steady role for Beasley — In the offseason, the Heat more or less took a flyer on their former No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley, after the Suns terminated his contact. Early in the season, Beasley’s role was that of mostly mop-up duty in blowouts with some sporadic minutes during games when the decision was not in doubt. That has changed of late as Beasley is averaging 19.5 mpg over his last four games and had a solid night against Charlotte last night (four points, seven rebounds) as Miami rallied for a win. After the game, coach Erik Spoelstra explained to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel how he and the Heat have started to find an appropriate role for Beasley in Miami’s stacked lineup:

If it looks only now like Erik Spoelstra is developing a role for Michael Beasley, you’re not too far off.

The Miami Heat coach acknowledged Sunday that it wasn’t until after training camp that he began formulating a plan for the Heat 2008 first-round draft choice. Before that, he said it was just about creating a fit with the versatile forward who had split the previous three seasons between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

“With Michael,” Spoelstra said, “it was more about, initially, we felt he was part of our family. We drafted him. We spent a lot of time with him, not only during those two regular seasons, but during the offseasons and we just wanted to open up our arms back into our family.  “That was our initial thought when we talked to him. I didn’t even talk role. I didn’t even talk specifics about anything. I didn’t talk about, ‘Hey, you’re going to learn from these guys.’ It was, ‘Hey, come back to the family,’ and just get back into the routine and we’ll take it from there. After training camp, that’s about the first time I really started to talk about a possible role with him.”

Spoelstra said it was more about allowing the Heat’s locker-room culture to envelop Beasley, who returned on a one-year, non-guaranteed, veteran-minimum contract.

“Our whole locker room is important for anybody we bring in now, that there’s a world-class professionalism we expect from everybody, and our guys live and breathe it,” Spoelstra said. “They take pride in it. There’s a culture and discipline and structure to how we do things. And so when we’re recruiting players, we always have that in mind, whether a guy will fit in. We love it that guys will get inspired by each others’ professionalism and work ethic.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Davis is out indefinitely after breaking his hand in last night’s game against the KnicksWesley Matthews says the Blazers aren’t a ‘cool’ team, but rather, a pack of ‘dogs’ … The Wolves were selling tickets that give fans the right to high-five the Heat as they come out of the tunnel when they visit Minnesota …

ICYMI Of The Night: All you have to do is watch what Steph Curry and Klay Thompson did last night in Sacramento to understand why they’re called the Splash Bros. …


VIDEO: Steph Curry & Klay Thompson run wild against Kings

Spurs’ Bench Propelling Hot Start


VIDEO: Spurs bench players Marco Belinelli and Matt Bonner connect for a nice play

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Spurs’ starting lineup was a big part of their defensive improvement last season. It was the best defensive lineup in the league and outscored its opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions in its 364 minutes.

This season, that same starting lineup hasn’t been too good It’s been pretty bad offensively (with Tim Duncan shooting less than 40 percent) and has actually been outscored by four points in 99 minutes. Yet the Spurs are 13-1 and rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency, because they have the best bench in the league right now.

While the Spurs’ starters have basically broke even, all other San Antonio lineups have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions, playing great on both ends of the floor.

Spurs efficiency

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Starters 10 99 95.8 93.5 92.7 +0.8 -4
Other lineups 14 572 97.2 108.3 92.2 +16.1 +173
Total 14 671 97.0 106.1 92.3 +13.9 +169

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

There are two aspects to having a great bench, and neither have to do with how many points the players off the bench score. You just have to go back to the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Chicago Bulls for an example of a great bench that didn’t score a lot of points. That group built on leads because they were great defensively.

Building on leads (or decreasing deficits) is obviously the most important trait of a good bench. But keeping your starters fresh is also critical (and obviously related to how well you build leads). Through Tuesday, every player on the Spurs is averaging less than 30 minutes a game and the five starters have played just 52 percent of the teams total minutes. You couldn’t ask for a better start to the season from a roster.

No other contender in the Western Conference has had the bench success that the Spurs’ “Foreign Legion” crew has had, but some have done well with their reserve minutes.

Note: Before the season started, six West teams would have been considered as “contenders.” Portland has been added to this group, because they’re off to such a hot start and also because their bench was their primary issue last season.

Efficiency from lineups other than starters

Team GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Golden State 15 532 98.3 97.8 97.2 +0.6 -1
Houston 15 665 100.4 106.4 101.5 +4.9 +36
L.A. Clippers 15 448 100.4 107.1 105.9 +1.2 +10
Memphis 14 513 91.8 99.4 104.0 -4.6 -47
Oklahoma City 12 483 99.6 106.0 96.1 +9.9 +81
Portland 15 442 97.1 106.9 101.6 +5.2 +64

Note: This includes lineups with 1-4 starters on the floor. It also includes lineups that started games when regular starters weren’t healthy or before a coach (Kevin McHale) made a lineup change.

Each team is its own case. Some have had their starters healthy for every game, some have not, and one – Houston – has already made a major change to its starting lineup.

Golden State

The Warriors’ starting lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, David Lee and Andrew Bogut – has been ridiculously good offensively, scoring 118.8 points per 100 possessions in 192 minutes together. Combine that with solid defensive numbers and they’ve been the league’s best lineup (minimum 75 minutes) thus far.

Bench units (which include lineups that have started games that Curry and Iguodala have missed) have been strong defensively, but weak offensively. When Curry has been off the floor, the Dubs have scored an ugly 87.5 points per 100 possessions.

Breaking even will do when your starting lineup is so good, and the Warriors are in good shape if they’re healthy. But it’s clear that Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry will be missed if injuries keep popping up.

Houston

The Rockets moved Terrence Jones into the starting lineup just seven games ago and have been without James Harden in three games since then, so their optimal starting lineup has played just 69 minutes together and their numbers above include lineups that have started 11 of their 15 games. That set includes lineups with both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik that we know were bad offensively.

So it’s difficult to gather much from these numbers. We do know that the new starting group, with Patrick Beverley and Harden in the backcourt, has been terrific so far. And we do know that the Rockets have been strong defensively – allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions – with Asik on the floor without Howard. So that’s a good sign for their bench … at least until Asik gets traded.

L.A. Clippers

As we all expected, the Clippers’ starting lineup has been great, especially offensively. It currently ranks as the fifth best lineup in the league. But the five starters have played over 68 percent of the team’s minutes, the second highest mark among the seven teams we’re looking at here.

Last season, when the Clippers had a great defensive second unit, that number was 51 percent. This season, they’re suffering on both ends of the floor when they go to their bench and though their starters have been solid on defense, they currently rank as a bottom 10 defensive team.

A healthy Matt Barnes will help, but a defensive big off the bench is needed. Lamar Odom was exactly that for them last season and you can understand why the Clips are monitoring his progress as he works his way back into shape.

Memphis

The Grizzlies’ starters weren’t what they were last season, when they outscored their opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions after the Rudy Gay trade. This season, they were just a plus-0.8 in 169 minutes together. But losing Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with a sprained MCL) is obviously a huge blow.

The new starting group (with Kosta Koufos in Gasol’s place) was an encouraging plus-12 in 33 minutes against the Spurs and Rockets. But the impact of Gasol’s injury might be felt most in the bench units, which have been poor already. Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter, two guys who are supposed to bring offense off the bench, have shot a combined 32 percent.

Oklahoma City

We thought that, in the wake of Kevin Martin‘s departure, bench production was going to be a problem for the Thunder. But OKC’s bench units have been terrific, ranking second to only the Spurs in terms of NetRtg. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by an amazing 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson on the floor.

The issue with the Thunder is the starting lineup, which has been outscored by 12.4 points per 100 possessions in its 97 minutes. Of the 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together this season, that ranks 25th, ahead only the original starting lineups of the Kings and Jazz. In those situations, both coaches have already made changes.

Scott Brooks will surely have more patience with his group, which was excellent (plus-12.3 points per 100 possessions) last season. The starting group has basically been bad in three games (minus-31 against the Pistons, Wizards and Nuggets) and OK in three games (plus-7 against the Suns, Mavs and Clippers). And the success of the bench units has far outweighed the starters’ struggles. Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Portland

Last season, the Blazers’ “other lineups” got outscored by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. No team suffered more offensively when a particular player stepped off the floor than Portland did when Damian Lillard sat down. So the bench, along with better defense from their center position, was the focus of their summer moves.

So far, so good, as the Blazers’ bench units have basically turned that number around, outscoring their opponents by that same 5.2 points per 100 possessions. They’ve scored a solid 103.5 points per 100 possessions when Lillard has sat, and he doesn’t have to lead the league in minutes this year.

The issue is that those bench units still include a lot of minutes from the starters. Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez account for more than 72 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s obviously a younger group, but compare that with the 52 percent the Spurs’ starters account for.

It’s Never Too Early To Make A Move


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson talks about sharing the backcourt with Victor Oladipo

The season isn’t even a month old, but there are some places where things are clearly not working and it’s already time for a change. Here are a handful of names that could or should be on the move:

Omer Asik, Rockets — At this point, he should have a moving van at the front door and his luggage packed. It’s only a matter of time before last year’s flavor of the season gets his wish and a ticket out of Houston. Despite his workmanlike double-double consistency in 2012-13, there’s no faulting the Rockets for leaping at the chance to upgrade to Dwight Howard. The twin towers experiment didn’t work. Asik is unlikely to be happy playing just the spare minutes available as a backup and it only makes sense to get the kind of piece missing — rugged, bruising big man or stretch 4 — that can be a more comfortable fit at both ends of the floor. It also wouldn’t hurt to unload that $15 million due next season to Asik. There are any number of places that Asik could help right away. New York and New Orleans immediately come to mind. GM Daryl Morey is in no rush and will pull the trigger when he’s ready on the right deal.

Jameer Nelson, Magic — The handwriting has been on the wall since the Magic made Victor Oladipo the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft and promptly announced going into summer league play that he would get a run at point guard. That message might as well have been spray-painted in Day-Glo orange on Saturday night when coach Jacque Vaughn removed the veteran Nelson from a winnable game against Dallas and let the rookie run the offense all the way to the end of a 108-100 loss. Oladipo, as uncomfortable as he may often look at the point, is the future of the franchise along with all of the other young parts. In a season when the Magic don’t really expect to win many games, it only makes sense to move Nelson and make the full-time commitment to the rookie. The fact that the $8 million on Nelson’s contract next season is a team option will only make him easier to move for another future asset.

Danny Granger, Pacers — The fact that Granger has not yet come back from a calf injury more than three weeks into the season hasn’t stopped the Pacers from running out to their league-best 10-1 record, which matches the Spurs. In fact, it could mean that coach Frank Vogel will have to disrupt the humming of a well-oiled machine when he eventually has to find the minutes and shots that Granger will surely want when he’s back in the lineup. Can he really afford to give up a single possession by MVP candidate Paul George? Lance Stephenson has fit quite well into the starting lineup. The Pacers pushed the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Granger last spring. By moving his desirable expiring contract they could add another valuable piece to the bench.

Thaddeus Young, 76ers — The long, versatile forward does not shoot well from behind the 3-point line, but does so many other things that make him desirable and valuable on the court. Considering the fact that the Sixers are still several years away under GM Sam Hinkie’s total reconstruction program, it doesn’t make sense to keep Young around for another $19 million over the next two seasons. Hinkie would probably like to get rid of Evan Turner first, but Young is the player that other clubs are most interested in and could bring in return the kind of asset that Philly wants and needs for the future.

Anybody But DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Kings — It might be time to set up the folding tables and the hand drawn price tags in the parking lot at Sleep Train Arena and hold a flea market to clean out the locker room. As Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out, the Kings have already benched Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson and are ready to make a full-time commitment to the future by sweeping the locker room clean. Cousins may have his own baggage, but he is putting up solid numbers of 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Despite all of the optimism that the “saved in Sacramento” Kings brought into this season under new coach Michael Malone, losing seven of their first nine games delivered a heavy dose of reality.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger speaks on Nov. 13 about progress with injury

Asik Only Back Until He’s Gone For Good


VIDEO: Asik explains frustration with Rockets

HOUSTON — Omer Asik is back.

Back on an NBA bench, where he spent the first two years of his NBA career with the Bulls.

Back in a subservient role because the Rockets won the Dwight Howard derby over the summer.

Back in uniform after taking a couple of games off for a pout, regrouping, walkabout or whatever it is they call a hissy fit in his native Turkey.

Asik, the 7-foot center who acquitted himself quite well during his first season in Houston by averaging a double-double and giving the Rockets needed rim protection, was finally back on the court Tuesday night. But not until there was only 6:49 left in a thumping of the overmatched Celtics.

He made a layup, missed two others, sank a pair of free throws and did his usual post-game bolt from the locker room that is his quickest move on any given night.

“I just want to help my team,” was all Asik would say when tracked down in a hallway of the Toyota Center.

Most likely, the next time Asik helps his team it will be with him wearing a different uniform and the only way he’ll give the Rockets any more help is with what he brings them in return.

With Howard in the middle, Asik wants out, a sentiment he made quite clear in the immediate aftermath of Howard’s announcement that he was relocating to Houston.

On one hand, you can fault coach Kevin McHale for wanting to see what kind of monster he could construct from a “twin towers” lineup of Howard and Asik. After all, he played quite happily and won three championships along side Robert Parish in Boston.

These however are different times and no one will ever confuse Howard and Asik with McHale and “The Chief”. In their time together on the court through the first couple weeks of the season, they were horribly inefficient on offense and almost as weak on defense.

So it it was only a matter of time until McHale pulled the plug on his grand experiment, which occurred last week when Asik played less than five minutes of an overtime loss in Philly and then told the coach he wasn’t available the following night in New York against the Knicks.

Now Asik is available. Having demanded a trade, then skipping the next game at home against Denver due to “an illness,” it’s only a matter of time until the Sultan of Swap, G.M. Daryl Morey, sends him packing. Despite the fact that Asik is the top name on every list of trade candidates, it will probably not happen until at least Dec. 15, the date that most players acquired over the summer are eligible to be dealt and it could linger on until the February trade deadline.

Morey’s dilemma is getting what he considers fair value in return for a player when his market has been depressed by Asik’s actions. There’s also the matter of getting someone to swallow that nearly $15 million he’s due on his contract next season.

But it has to happen. The truth is that once Asik has shown his petulant colors and abandoned his team, there is no going back to having full faith for a club trying to be a contender. On the other side, if you’re a would-be trade partner, would the Celtics even think for an instant about giving up Rajon Rondo, the Lakers trading Pau Gasol, anybody giving up anything truly significant for a player that folded his tent in the face of a professional challenge?

Asik returned the Rockets, apologized to his teammates and gave his mea culpa to reporters at the Tuesday morning shootaround.

“I was just frustrated,” he said. “It’s behind me now. I’m just looking forward to help my team win.”

Teammates Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons said all the right things about accepting Asik back into the fold, but they’re not naive, just good soldiers. They’ve watched Terrence Jones step into Asik’s spot in the starting lineup the past several games and ring up an impressive 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting and grab nine rebounds in just 27 minutes of the thumping on Boston.

The lifeless expression on McHale’s face said everything when he was asked what Asik had to do to earn more than six-plus minutes of playing time.

“There’s another game (tonight in Dallas),” he said. “Everybody is out there playing. We’ll see where the time goes with Omer.”

Right out the door.

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 19


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Waiters details Cavs’ team meeting, his illness | Curry takes nasty spill vs. Jazz | Asik back at Rockets practice | Smith: Hawks never made long-term offer

No. 1: Waiters back at practice; discusses players-only meeting — Two of the more popular topics of late, at least in terms of news related to the Cleveland Cavaliers, have been a players-only meeting and Dion Waiters‘ health. News on the players’ only meeting was broken by ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, who wrote that the Cavs might be dealing with some chemistry issues after tempers flared during the meeting. In terms of Waiters’ health, that has been a touchy topic around Cavs fans. Waiters missed the team’s last two games, with C.J. Miles getting the start instead of Waiters. At any rate, Waiters cleared up both his mysterious illness and the team meeting, as Bob Finnan of The News-Hearld & Morning Journal reports:

Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters insists he was “sick” over the weekend, which would dispute wide-spread rumors that he was suspended.

He also contends no punches were thrown at a now-famous, players-only meeting last Wednesday.

Waiters said he was prescribed medicine, and missed games Friday and Saturday. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder was back at practice on Monday at Cleveland Clinic Courts.

Whether he’ll be back in the starting lineup is anyone’s guess.

Waiters said guard Kyrie Irving called the players-only meeting, and things got a bit testy.

“I think it was productive,” he said. “I think it helped. I think we needed it as far as a team and all the built-up frustration, especially when you want to win and you want to win now. So I think that helped us.”

He said there were no physical confrontations.

“Nobody got into (any) altercations or anything like that,” he said. “We got everything off our chests that we needed to. All the other rumors, man, are rumors. Don’t believe it. It’s not true. We talked. Everybody talked. Nobody put their hands on (anybody).”

He said the players vented and got some things off their chest.

“People said what they felt,” Waiters said. “I said what I felt. Other guys said what they felt. At the end of the day, (we’re) men, so we’ve got to get it off our chest, especially being a players-only meeting, we’ve got to say what we feel.

“It’s not good to keep something inside that’s going to keep building and keep building and you don’t say (anything) about it. So at the end of the day, everybody said something.”

Waiters said the meeting was productive.

“At the end of the day, we’re grown men,” he said. “I think we should be able to talk to one another and say what we feel. If I go on the court every night, I make sure I’ve got every one of my teammates’ back. Right or wrong. No matter what. I feel as though it’s vice versa.

“At the end of the day, we should be able to come to one another and say something and tell them how we feel, what we don’t like, what we do like in certain situations. That’s what we did. That’s what we talked about.”

Among the players who spoke up were Waiters, Irving, Miles and Tristan Thompson.
“At the end of the day, we’re teammates,” he said. “Like I said, ‘I’d rather fight somebody else on the other team than one of my teammates.’ That’s the way it is. That’s the way I was brought up. I feel as though we say we’re family, then we’re a family and I’m going to look out for you to the best of my abilities. All the other stuff is foolishness.”

He said being in the starting lineup is out of his hands.

“The only thing I can do is come prepared,” he said. “I can’t control those types of things. I can only do my job.”

Waiters said he feeling much better.

“I’m doing good,” he said. “I feel better. I had a cold.

“I know what happened. That’s some people’s job just to think stuff that happened that didn’t. I knew what happened. I knew what took place. What happened was I just got sick at that time. Of course, everybody’s going to think otherwise. But everybody on the team and I knew what really happened. So I’m good.”

Waiters said he’s ready to play in Wednesday’s game.

“I’ll be back,” he said. “I’m ready. I feel a little bit better. It’s going to go away on its own, still lingering. But I got medicine. I’ll be back.”


VIDEO: Waiters addresses his illness, Cavs’ team meeting

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No. 2: Curry suffers bad headache vs. Jazz — With just under nine minutes left in the Warriors’ game in Salt Lake City against the Jazz, guard Steph Curry drove the lane. He was knocked down trying to pass out of a trap and fell and while he was on the ground, Jazz forward Marvin Williams fell on Curry’s head. The Golden State guard’s head hit the court hard and he left the game, but told the Contra Costa TimesMarcus Thompson II that he merely suffered a bad headache afterward:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry had no shirt on and a grin plastered on his face, holding one finger in the air as the locker room TV showed his Carolina Panthers win.

With just under nine minutes left in the game, Curry drove the lane and was cut off. He was knocked down trying to pass out of the trap. While Curry was on the floor, Jazz forward Marvin Williams fell on top of Curry’s head, smashing the left side of his face into the hardwood.

The Warriors star lay facedown on the court for several minutes, his teammates and coach Mark Jackson standing over him.

Eventually, Curry rolled onto his back, then sat up. He was helped up, then walked off under his own power to the locker room with head athletic trainer Johan Wang.

Curry said he never lost consciousness. But the gravity of head injuries wasn’t lost on him.

“I haven’t had any concussion episodes before,” Curry said. “When I first hit, it rung my bell pretty hard. I made sure I took my time. I didn’t want to put myself in jeopardy for the next game, especially with the lead we had. … The way it felt, it was definitely pretty serious.”


VIDEO: Steph Curry hits face hard on court vs. Jazz

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No. 3: Asik back at practice in Houston — The trade talk surrounding the Rockets and big man Omer Asik hasn’t died down. But his teammates in Houston are trying to not let it get to them. Asik didn’t play against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday because he was deemed sick at the time, but he returned to practice on Monday and Asik’s teammates were glad to see him back, writes Adam Wexler of CSNHouston.com:

By all accounts it was business as usual for the Houston Rockets at their Monday practice in advance of their game with the Boston Celtics in Houston on Tuesday night. The only thing unusual about that is things were not that way for the last couple of days for the team.

Rockets center Omer Asik returned to practice for the first time since he reportedly demanded a trade and was deemed unavailable for Saturday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets.

His teammates and coach seemed pleased about his presence and were ready to put it behind them.

“I’m happy. We can use him,” Chandler Parsons said. “Obviously, he’s been a big part of his team. I understand his frustration. It’s got to be difficult, he wants to play.

“But he’s here, he’s on the Rockets” Parsons said. “So he should be practicing with us, he should be playing with us trying to help us win games.”

Clearly the reason Asik is frustrated is due the acquisition of Dwight Howard, who, as expected, has become the Rockets new starting center.

“(I’m) glad he’s back out there,” Howard said. “We’re trying to accomplish something great here and everybody has to be all-in. There’s going to be some adversity but we have to stick together.

Howard said he and the team are looking ahead regarding the situation, rather than focusing on what transpired.

“That’s behind us, he apologized for it,” Howard said. “We have to move on, we can’t dwell on it. We can’t make it an issue. We all have to be understanding, empathize with him and keep moving forward.”


VIDEO: Coach Kevin McHale on Asik’s return to practice

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No. 4: Hawks never talked extension with Smith — During the offseason, the Hawks were one of a handful of teams to make a free-agency pitch to big man Dwight Howard out in L.A. as he weighed offers from the Lakers, Warriors, Rockets and Hawks. Howard, of course, ultimately chose Houston. Atlanta had a solid free agent of its own to possibly woo in Josh Smith, but that apparently never happened. Smith spoke with an Atlanta radio station and detailed why there was a lack of a conversation with the Hawks to have him come back to the team, writes Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry has previously said the team did not make Josh Smith a contract offer once he became an unrestricted free agent this summer. Smith gave some more detail into the Hawks’ lack of interest this summer in a radio interview with 92.9 FM Monday.

“No, there wasn’t,” Smith said when asked if there was a contract offer. “During free agency, during that period, there were a lot of guys out in L.A. that were meeting with various teams. I was one of those guys. That’s where I work out in the summertime as well. The only time I saw the Hawks during free agency was when they came to one of my workouts just to say hello. I think they were meeting with Dwight Howard that day. They never came in or sat down with me during the free agency period to offer me anything.”

The forward returns to Atlanta Wednesday for his first game at Philips Arena as a visitor. The deal with the Pistons was below the maximum he could have received from the Hawks. He could have signed a four-year deal with another team for a maximum of $70 million. The Hawks could have signed him to a five-year deal for a maximum of $94.3 million.

“As it relates to his returning to the Hawks I spoke to Josh during the season, both before the trade deadline and after, about where his head was regarding his future here as well as our intentions,” Ferry told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I also had steady and open communication with his agents Brian Dyke and Wallace Prather during the season as well as during the summer.  Although we both decided it was best to move in different directions, I wish him well.  Josh was obviously a very important part of several good seasons for the Hawks and he did wonderful things in the Atlanta community.”

Smith, who is top 10 in most of the Hawks’ all-time statistical categories after nine years with the organization, said he has no hard feelings.

“Once you take your personal feelings out of the situation you understand that it is a business, more so than anything,” Smith said. “You kind of are going to set yourself up for failure. It’s probably an organization that probably wanted to go in a different direction and I understand that. I moved on for the better of my situation and I’m pretty sure they felt the same way.”

Smith said he is looking forward to an opportunity to come back home and stay in the home he still has here. How he will be greeted by Hawks fans remains to be seen.

“I’m having mixed emotions,” Smith said. “I know that my friends and family are going to be happy to see me there. I don’t necessarily know what is going to happen with the rest of the fans. I’m just coming to win a basketball game. That is pretty much it. I’m coming in there being focused to win a game, get off on the right foot, and I’m not necessarily concerned with how the crowd is going to receive me.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jazz rookie Trey Burke cleared to do some contract drills … Hawks forward Elton Brand tried Twitter for a day … and then retired from itTobias Harris returned to practice for the Magic yesterday … Foes are starting to praise the Bobcats for their defensive work this season

ICYMI Of The Night: The Bobcats are hovering around .500 as they have all season and part of that has been due to the improved play of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who shows off his passing skills with this inbounds dish to Gerald Henderson


VIDEO: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist throws the inbounds alley-oop to Gerald Henderson