Posts Tagged ‘Sixers’

Morning Shootaround — March 15

 

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Celts still streaking | Five in row for Jazz | Noel likes Sixers’ future | Jackson doesn’t hustle
No. 1: Celtics closing in on playoffs — Friday night’s topic of conversation was “Cater-gate,” when Evan Turner claimed that coach Brad Stevens was so angry at halftime against the Magic that he canceled the food for the postgame flight to Indianapolis. Turns out that was not true at all, but the hungry Celtics still went out Saturday night and devoured the Pacers’ seven-game winning streak. Suddenly Boston is with in a half-game of the final playoff spot in the East and only a game behind No. 7 seed Indy. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald says Stevens ate it all up:

Brad Stevens was in heaven.
“These are the kinds of games I’ve always loved. Just find a way,” said the Celtics coach. “It’s nice when you have a game where you’re making every shot, but that’s one of those nights, and one of those nights is called that for a reason. You’re not going to have it very often, and you just have to find a way.”

The result was the Celtics’ 93-89 win over Indiana, a team that had won its last seven games, all but one at home.

The C’s, suddenly on a four-game winning streak, thus made up ground on everyone in the chase for the seventh and eighth playoffs seeds. They moved into a tie with ninth place Miami, within a half-game of eighth place Charlotte and a game outside of the seventh place Pacers.

They suddenly feel like they should pass all of these teams.
“Winning takes care of everything,” Brandon Bass said with an especially restive smile, thinking back two months to when the Celtics didn’t have much chance of winning these games.

“We went through our struggles early on, not being able to finish games, and it’s paid off for us,” he said. “I don’t mind these grind out games. Maybe it would be better at home if we could see Gino, but we’ll win whatever we can get.”

***

No. 2: Jazz getting big Favors up front — With his stature and his dominant play of late, it’s certainly been hard to overlook the play in the middle of Utah’s fabulous Frenchman Rudy Gobert. But perhaps lost in the shadow of the “Stifle Tower” has been the resurgence of Derrick Favors at power forward. He’s back to playing the position where he’s most comfortable and has been large part of what has now grown into a five-game winning streak. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune has the details:

C “I’m just taking my time,” Favors said, “reading what the defense gives me.”
After Favors scored a game-high 26 points, helping push the Jazz to a fifth straight win, his coach put it another way.

“He’s hard to guard,” Quin Snyder said.

Rudy Gobert has garnered much of the attention in Utah’s shift from defensive ineptitude to defensive powerhouse. But Snyder has been vocal about the role Favors has played, since sliding over to the 4-spot. Favors’ size has allowed the Jazz to compete against big lineups. His speed — his ability to switch, even on point guards — has kept him on the floor against smaller lineups.

And the results have been good.

“We don’t necessarily have to go small to match up,” Snyder said. “So what ends up happening is sometimes he’s got a mismatch.”

Favors, meanwhile, is also settling into an offensive groove. Favors has topped 20 points in four of his past seven games.
“He’s just more poised,” Snyder said. “I think that’s just experience. We’ve seen him improve as the season progresses.”

Favors averaged 15.9 points per game before the All-Star break. Since then (coinciding with the Enes Kanter trade and Favors’ move to the 4), Favors has put up 18.7 points per night.

***

No. 3: Noel wants chance to play with Embiid — He was already shocked once this season when point guard Michael Carter-Williams was shipped out at the trade deadline. So Nerlens Noel is hoping to avoid more upheaval going forward next season. He told Tom Moore of The Intelligencer (Pa.) that he wants a chance to play alongside a healthy Joel Embiid next season:

And what if the Sixers end up with Duke center Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns in the draft? They already have a core center in 7-footer Joel Embiid, who is sitting out his rookie season with a foot stress fracture.
“I really hope nothing happens,” Noel said last week. “I like this team. I like what we’re building. I hope we can stick together and continue to grow.”

Noel is confident that he and Embiid — with Embiid likely playing power forward on offense and center at the defensive end — will turn out to be a terrific tandem.

“Jo is going to get more and more healthy and more active,” Noel said. “I see things really taking shape (next season).”

Still, Noel gets that “at the end of the day, it is a business. You always have to keep that in mind. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do, work on your thing.”

Noel has been working and it’s been paying off. He’s moved into the league’s top 10 in blocked shots (sixth) and steals (10th) and, while he remains a work in progress on offense, he’s having a considerable impact on defense.

On Wednesday, Noel became the first NBA player since the Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon in November 1988 to accumulate at least 10 rebounds and four steals in four straight games. Through Friday, he was averaging 11.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2 blocks in his last eight games with six double-doubles.

***

No. 4: Jackson benched in another Pistons loss — It was only a few weeks ago when Reggie Jackson was delighted to finally be traded out of a reserve spot in the OKC lineup and given a chance to run a team of his own in Detroit. It seems like the blink of an eye since the Pistons were happy to welcome Jackson to town as their point guard of the future. Well, you might want to put the brakes on the talk of a new contract next summer and a blissful marriage. Coach Stan Van Gundy yanked Jackson off the floor for lack of hustle in Pistons’ loss at Utah, their 10th in a row. Terry Foster of the Detroit News detailed the ugliness:

On a night the Pistons hustled for nearly everything they got it, was a non-hustle play that angered the coach.
Van Gundy can tolerate mistakes and questionable shot selection as long as there is some effort behind it. But he will not tolerate lazy play on the court.

And that is when Jackson relaxed and got burned. He came in for Spencer Dinwiddie with 5:50 remaining and play immediately bogged down.

Jackson turned the ball over and later watched as Dante Exum hustled down a loose ball and fed Rodney Hood for a layup, which gave the Jazz a 78-74 lead with 4:32 remaining.

“He (Jackson) wasn’t being very aggressive and when he didn’t chase down the loose ball and Exum got it that was a huge hoop in the game,” Van Gundy said. “As I told him when I took him out of the game, I will tolerate mistakes, but we are in a battle trying to win a fourth game in five days and you’re not going to make an effort?”

Jackson got the message loud and clear from Van Gundy.

“I just assumed the ball was going out of bounds,” Jackson said. “You can never make an assumption. You have to always complete the play.
Unfortunately that play really cost us tonight. It was a big possession. We were trying to make a comeback. Whether it is going out of bounds or not I have to be in position to make the play.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry got a birthday cake from the Warriors and a win from the Knicks…The Clippers are hoping that Blake Griffin returns to the lineup today against the Rockets….  Andre Miller is still surprised that Wizards traded him to Sacramento…Bucks plan to keep Khris Middleton….Hawks’ Scott to miss four to six weeks with broken toe.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 18



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe has thought of retirement | Warriors bounce back | Wiggins keeps rolling | Embiid worrying Sixers | Marshall tears ACL

 

No. 1: Retirement has crossed Kobe’s mind — It’s the word that the rest of the world jumped to as soon as he went to the floor back in April 2013 with the torn Achilles’ tendon. It’s the word that he’s been pushing back against over the long, difficult months of recovery. But now with a 32-minute per game restriction and still the pain that comes with trying to be his old self, Kobe Bryant admitted to Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times that early retirement is a long-shot, but still a possibility:

“I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t crossed my mind,” he tells The Times. “Right now I doubt it … but anything’s possible.”
He emphasizes the right now (because, right now, the reality is so muddled and difficult that even the Black Mamba is having trouble wrapping his mind around it.

“My body is hurting like crazy, around the clock, and if I don’t want to do this anymore, I won’t do it,” he says.

Like an aging pitcher, he has been placed on a count, 32 minutes per game, which basically leaves him on the bench for one crucial stretch per night. Like a fragile relic, he also has been forbidden to play the second night of back-to-back games, which means he will miss at least seven more full games this season even though he’s not injured. There has even been talking of completely shutting him down in March if the Lakers fall completely out of playoff contention, which has essentially already occurred.

The most stunning part of these developments is that a man who has spent his entire 19-year Lakers career fighting to play every minute of every game — he even made two free throws after tearing his Achilles’ tendon, remember — has agreed to every current and potential restriction.
“I know everyone is surprised I’m not fighting all this,” Bryant says quietly. “But I’ve changed.”

***

No. 2: Warriors reclaim their identity in Houston — One night after they barely showed up to put up a fight in Oklahoma City, the Warriors exploded for a 38-point guard third quarter in Houston and put James Harden under lock and key in what was supposed to be a showdown between Western Conference powers. As Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, there was only one power on hand Saturday night and it was the league leaders:

Just 24 hours after the Warriors allowed season highs in points, field goals and field-goal percentage at Oklahoma City, they didn’t allow Houston to sniff those numbers.

Friday “night, we weren’t ourselves,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “We weren’t focused. We weren’t locked in. It showed in the stats, and it showed in the score.”

With Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala back in the rotation, the Warriors returned to the tenacious switching and gritty rim-protecting unit that has topped the league in defensive rating for most of the season. Houston shot just 42 percent from the floor, and the league’s most prolific three-point-shooting team was limited to 7-of-23 from behind the arc.

The Warriors returned to moving with a purpose and unselfishly passing on offense, getting double-digit scoring from five players, collecting 32 assists and shooting 54.9 percent from the floor. Most importantly, they returned to looking like the best team in the league — moving their record to 32-6 while snapping the four-game winning streak of the Rockets.

“We just wanted to get back to our identity,” Klay Thompson said. “It felt good to get back to what we do best.”

Thompson continued his hot streak, scoring 27 points and becoming the first Warriors guard with five blocked shots in a game since Baron Davis in 2007. Curry overcame six straight generally poor quarters to light it up in the second half and finished with 27 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.

David Lee and Marreese Speights combined for 33 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. The Rockets were led by Howard, who had 23 points and 10 rebounds on a night when Thompson caused fits for James Harden, who managed just 12 points (4-for-15).

Wearing their slate-colored, sleeved jerseys — a Saturday tradition — the Warriors won their fourth straight against Houston — the first time they’ve done that since 2006-07 — and secured a season series road sweep of the Rockets for the first time since 1975-76.

***

No. 3: Red-hot Wiggins lights Timberwolves’ fire in Denver — He was feeling a bit under the weather, but that didn’t prevent rookie of the year favorite Andrew Wiggins from continuing on his recent surge. The No. 1 pick in the draft bounced back from a poor shooting night on Friday to lead his Timberwolves to their second win three games in Denver and Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune had the details:

This time, they needed veteran guard Mo Williams not for the career-high, franchise-record 52 points he scored in Tuesday’s streak-busting victory at Indiana but for two strategic shots late in a game influenced in many ways by youngsters Andrew Wiggins and Robbie Hummel.

Still ill, but feeling better than he did Friday in a loss at Phoenix, Wiggins scored a career-high 31 points and delivered nine rebounds, four assists, three blocked shots and a steal in a 40-minute that might have left Cleveland Cavaliers fans muttering.

“It’s almost astonishing his confidence level,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “He just keeps continuing to get better and amaze and do everything, whether it’s offense, blocking shots, rebounds.”

Still just 19, Wiggins did that Saturday despite feeling what he called “just sick.”

“I still am a little, but I feel great,” he said. “We got the win, played hard, executed down the stretch. Nothing feels better than that. … We’ve had games on the line this year where we messed up and we didn’t finish it. Those were growing pains. Now we’re learning. I think we’re getting better every day now, every game. We’ve won two of the last three. That’s great for us.”

***

No. 4: Embiid’s conditioning, attitude have Sixers worried — Even though he has yet to step onto the court this season as he continues to rehabilitate from foot surgery, Sixers rookie Joel Embiid has made quite a reputation for himself as a fun-loving guy on social media. But the team that made him the No. 3 pick in the 2014 Is now concerned that Embiid is not taking his conditioning and his pro career seriously enough, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Embiid has a weight issue. Although the Sixers wouldn’t disclose his weight, a source said he’s close to 300 pounds after being 250 pounds at Kansas last season.

His work ethic is being questioned by some inside the organization.

And a blowup with assistant strength and conditioning coach James Davis is one of the reasons he was sent home during the team’s recent West Coast road trip.

So, who is Embiid?

“He’s a young, 20-year-old kid who is trying to figure his way into being a professional basketball player and learning life,” Sixers forward Luc Mbah a Moute said.

Mbah a Moute knows more about his fellow Cameroonian than anyone here in the United States. He spotted Embiid at a basketball camp in their homeland several years ago. The 28-year-old has mentored Embiid ever since.

“Obviously, you can see some of his immaturity [in] his tweets sometimes,” Mbah a Moute said. “But you can also understand how mature he is in certain situations the way he handled himself. . . . He’s a good kid, man.

“At the end of the day, it’s tough for him being in a situation where people can’t really see who he is as a person.”

***

No. 5: Bucks lose Marshall for season with torn ACL — The overachieving Bucks, who have already lost rookie Jabari Parker for the season, suffered another setback when it was determined that guard Kendall Marshall has a torn ACL and will be done until 2015-16. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has the report:

For the second time in just over a month, the Milwaukee Bucks have lost a player to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Backup point guard Kendall Marshall is the latest, having suffered the season-ending injury to his right knee in the second quarter of the Bucks’ victory over the New York Knicks in London on Thursday. Rookie forward Jabari Parker tore the ACL in his left knee Dec. 15 in Phoenix.

The diagnosis was confirmed Saturday morning after Marshall underwent an MRI, and he said he expects to undergo surgery in two to three weeks after the swelling subsides.

“I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was something serious,” Marshall said Saturday as the Bucks returned to the practice court in preparation for Monday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. ” I could feel it buckle, pop and it was a pain that I’d never felt before.

“I hate to see injuries in sports, period. Our bodies are how we make our money; they’re our job, they’re our profession. At the end of the day, though, injuries are a part of our profession as well.

“That’s part of the risk so you have to be understanding of that and understanding of the process and be ready to get back.”

The 6-foot-4 North Carolina product had emerged as the Bucks’ backup point guard, and was averaging 4.2 points and 3.1 assists — second on the team to Brandon Knight’s 5.1 — over 28 games. Marshall also had posted career bests of 45.5% shooting from the floor and 88.9% from the free-throw line while also connecting on 39.1% of his three-pointers.

The timing of Marshall’s injury couldn’t have been worse considering the team waived No. 3 point guard Nate Wolters on Jan. 9 in order to be able to sign forward Kenyon Martin. That leaves Jerryd Bayless as the backup with O.J. Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo as other potential ball-handlers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Austin Rivers on board, now the Clippers have their eyes on Tayshaun Prince…Now that he’s back in the lineup, it didn’t take long for Lance Stephenson to get right back to being Lance Stephenson... The Wizards big men show they can deliver too… Stephon Marbury says there was a time when he considered suicideKevin Durant made a dream come true for a young heart transplant patient.

ICYMI of The Night: Stephen Curry’s sick no-look pass demonstrates why he’s one of the best point guards in the game …:

VIDEO: Curry’s assist of the night

Morning shootaround — Dec. 7




VIDEO: Highlights of the games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors keep streaking | Two in a row for Philly | Rockets blast Suns

No. 1: Draymond Green-lights 12th straight — It takes a lot more than a one-trick pony to win 17 times in 19 games and it’s becoming more apparent with every passing day that the Warriors are far more than just the Splash Brothers. It was Draymond Green who stepped into the spotlight and led the way in Chicago as Golden State set a franchise record with a 12th consecutive win. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has the details:

“He was OK,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I know it was his career high and his numbers were incredible, but that is kind of who he is.
“He’s just a winner.”
With All-Star point guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose never really getting it going and up-and-coming shooting guards Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler producing stat lines similar to each other, Green helped the Warriors snap a five-game losing streak in Chicago.
The game was tied four times and the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 19 minutes, but the Warriors never trailed after a six-point spurt by Marreese Speights put them up 83-82 with 10:59 to play. Green made his sixth three-pointer to cap a decisive 8-2 run that extended the Warriors’ advantage to 95-87 with 6:24 remaining.
Green made more three-pointers than the rest of the team combined (five), had half of the team’s six blocked shots and four of the Warriors’ 14 steals. He added seven rebounds and three assists for good measure to a game in which he shot 11-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-13 from three-point range.
“Oh man, I might lose my job if I do that too often. I don’t know if I can keep doing that,” said Green, who took 13 threes to Thompson’s eight and Curry’s five. “I don’t know if there’s going to many nights when I take as many three-point shots as them, but tonight, the shot was there. I didn’t turn it down too many times, and when I did turn one down, they told me to shoot it.”
His shot helped the Warriors (17-2) clinch a franchise-best seventh consecutive win on the road, equaling a record set in 1969 and tied in 2013-14. The last time the Warriors had an 11-game win streak overall, the Bulls snapped it in January 1972.

***

No. 2: Break up the Sixers — It may have taken them more than a month and a flirtation with NBA infamy to get their first win of the season, but the Sixers didn’t waste any time getting victory No. 2 when they outlasted the struggling Pistons in overtime. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes how the young team is enjoying its sudden taste of success:

“We are on a great little run,” said point guard Michael Carter-Wiliams, who finished with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots and 7 turnovers. “We played OKC tough. We came up a little short. But we wanted to build off that coming into this game.”
The Pistons dropped to 3-17 and lead the Sixers by only one game in the Eastern Conference standings. This was Detroit’s 11th consecutive loss. The Pistons are closing in on the franchise record of 14 straight losses.
The Pistons missed all 11 of their field goal attempts in the extra period. Their lone point came on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s foul shot with 2 minutes, 37 seconds left.
“I was pleased with our defense in that overtime,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, whose squad also held the Pistons to 18 points in the fourth quarter. “I thought our defense was tough.”
After the teams combined to miss their first nine shots in overtime, Henry Sims’ jumper gave the Sixers a 102-101 lead with 1 minute, 57 seconds left. Then Nerlens Noel’s 5-foot floater made it a 104-101 game with 29.9 seconds left. Carter-Williams and Robert Covington both added a pair of late foul shots in the seven-point win.
“Robert played great,” Carter-Williams said of Covington, who finished with a career-high 25 points off the bench. “I think Luc [Mbah a Moute], who had 14 points and 11 rebounds] made a couple of hustle plays. And Nerlens, Henry, and [Brandon Davies] were in there banging with their bigs and doing the best they can.
“So it was definitely a group effort.”

***

No. 3:Beverley returns in the nick of time — It’s been a tough start to the season for Rockets feisty point guard Pat Beverley as he’s missed 10 of the last 14 games with a nagging hamstring injury. But with Dwight Howard still sidelined and James Harden’s back finally giving out from carrying so much of the load, Beverley returned to make the big plays and shots that carried the Rockets to a fourth straight win and kept them on the heels of Golden State in the Western Conference race. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle explains:

Beverley returned after missing the previous six games and 10 of 14 with a strained hamstring. But with the Rockets’ list of injuries growing nightly, they needed him to be back and at his best with the game on the line.
Beverley answered just in time, putting in the 3-pointer that stopped the Phoenix Suns’ charge and grabbing the rebounds that held them off 100-95 on Saturday night at Toyota Center.
“We don’t win that game unless Pat plays,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He made some big 3s and got some huge offensive rebounds.
“We were really struggling. We were running out of gas. James tweaked his back. Francisco (Garcia) is out. We were really running on fumes there.”
Even with Beverley back, the Rockets began the game with Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou out, with Papanikolaou spraining his right knee Friday. Garcia left in the first half with a sore right leg.
Harden had carried the Rockets through the weeks of injuries, but when his back tightened Saturday, he struggled to move on the floor, eventually leaving the bench area to try to stretch. He played the final seven minutes in obvious pain, grimacing as he left the floor in the final seconds.
“I had a real tight back,” Harden said. “It was hard for me to even move. It was hard for me to change directions, and it was hard for me to really move and push off. It was a tough night.”
Harden was unconcerned that the back would be an ongoing problem.
The Rockets started fast, building a 22-point lead with Donatas Motiejunas sinking hooks and Jason Terry putting in 3-pointers early. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets went seven minutes without a field goal as their lead shrank from 16 points to seven.
Finally, with 2:30 remaining, Beverley nailed his fifth 3-pointer of the night, ending the Rockets’ dry spell just in time.
“Patrick brings something we don’t have and that’s a point guard who plays excellent defense, knocks down shots and is a great team player,” Harden said. “Without Pat tonight, we probably would have lost that game. It was great just to have him back.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tiago Splitter could finally be back in the Spurs’ lineup Tuesday night at Utah… Brian Shaw says there’s not much daylight between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant…  Are the Gasols the best brother combination in NBA history?…Andre Drummond admits that he made a fast mistake.

ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Knicks deal Outlaw to keep rookie Wear

From the moment he signed on to do that heavy lifting that will be required in the reconstruction project that is the Knicks, it’s been said that Phil Jackson would have to get creative.

So here is the team president swinging a cutdown-day deal to ship much traveled veteran Travis Outlaw to the Sixers in order to keep undrafted rookie Travis Wear on the 15-man roster for the regular season.

It’s a small move, but makes perfect sense. If you’re not going to be a playoff contender — and trust us, the Knicks are not — then you might as well take a flyer on young talent with potential.

Mark Stein of ESPN.com has the details:

In addition, the Knicks sent a 2019 second-round pick to the Sixers and have agreed to swap rights on another future second-rounder with Philadelphia for the ability to shed Outlaw’s contract in the trade.

Wear played his way onto the Knicks’ roster with a strong training camp after going undrafted this past summer out of UCLA.

“I’m very excited to be part of the team,” Wear said. “I’m just going to remain humble. I came in here and working and not expecting anything, playing defense, taking what comes to me and not force anything.”

“Travis Wear is another impressive rookie,” Knicks president Phil Jackson said recently. “He’s 6-10 with a terrific handle, outstanding athleticism and a nice touch from beyond the arc. He was overshadowed at UCLA but has the skill set to play every position from 1 to 4. We’ll eventually place him in the D-League, where his possible NBA future solely depends on his ability to learn how to defend.”

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

Caldwell Jones, 64, stood tall, quiet

In an oil painting, he’d have been part of the background scenery. As part of a comedy team, he’d have been the straight man who set up the other guy for the jokes and applause.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones spent most of his 17 seasons in the ABA and NBA out of the spotlight reserved for the superstars, but always in the middle of the dirty work that needed to be done.

The 64-year-old center, one of four Jones brothers — along with Wil, Major and Charles — to play in the NBA, has died of a heart attack.

He was tall (6-foot-11) and spindly and often looked like he’d been constructed out of pipe cleaners twisted together. He’d occasionally take the court wearing a rubber cushion to protect a sore elbow, two big knee pads and one high-top and one low-cut shoe to deal with foot injuries and then just go about his business against the bigger, bulkier big men in the game.

It took him 1,227 games in both leagues to cross the 10,000-point plateau, never averaging double figures. But scoring and getting headlines weren’t as important to Jones as doing what was necessary.

I first met him when he was probably the least-known member of the flamboyant 76ers team with Julius Erving, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Jones was content to be a defensive tentpole that quietly held things up in the middle.

“Everybody likes to look at the glory part of the game, the scoring points,” he once said. “But there is a lot more to the game. I look at myself like an offensive lineman. Someone has to open the holes for the 1,000-yard rushers.”

He loved to watch old Westerns (Lash LaRue, Cisco Kid) and cartoons (Woody Woodpecker, the Flintstones) and had a laugh that was as genuine and down-to-earth as the hardscrabble roots in McGehee, Ark., that produced the Jones clan.

He ate chili dogs for breakfast, chugged beers in the locker room after a hard night’s work and when Oregonian reporter Dwight Jaynes once asked him to name his favorite seafood, replied: “Salt water taffy.”

Jones was always self-deprecating about his own talents.

“You know how you stop Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?” he once told me. “You push him and you push him and you push and you push him. And then you hope he just steps out of bounds.”

In the prime of his career, Jones was a mentor to the likes of young Sixers guards Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, teaching them what it took to be a professional. In his final NBA season, he was still showing those ropes to a rookie named David Robinson in San Antonio.

After six seasons in Philadelphia, battling alongside Dr. J for Eastern Conference supremacy, but never winning a championship, Jones was traded to Houston for Moses Malone in 1982 and the Sixers won it all the next season while the Rockets finished 14-68.

I had moved to Houston myself about six months before the trade and Rockets equipment manager David Nordstrom asked me what he could do to make Jones feel welcome. I told him that a bucket filled with ice and a six-pack in front of his locker after every game would go a long way.

On the night Jones played his first game in Houston, I walked through the door just as C.J. was twisting the top off a bottle. He pointed it at me.

“They don’t guarantee what uniform you’re always gonna wear in this league” he said. “But they pay me very well to come to work and do a job.”

MCW feeling good about self, Sixers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with the NBA TV crew during Summer League

ORLANDO — It seems there are always questions about Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the offseason.

A year ago they were mostly about his struggling play and shaky start at the Orlando Pro Summer League. This year they revolve around his recent shoulder surgery.

“I’m good and I’m still ahead of progress,” Carter-Williams said when he dropped in at in the Amway Center to watch Philly’s youngsters. “I’ve been shooting the ball and I have full range of motion in my shot back, so I’ve just kept working out and do what the doctor has told me to do to get back to 100 percent.

“I really don’t have too many limitations. I really can’t do any heavy lifting right now, so I’ve been doing the simple things like swimming and shooting the ball and dribbling, things that don’t require a lot of weight or me to reach backwards. I’m going to start doing a lot of heavy lifting just to bulk up, once the shoulder gets there.”

Of course, last summer’s question marks turned into a debut NBA season that was an exclamation point as Carter-Williams became only the second Sixer to be named Rookie of the Year. He finished the season as the top rookie in scoring, rebounding and assist average.

He sat on the bench Wednesday watching last year’s fellow first-round Draft pick, Nerlens Noel, continue his comeback from a torn left ACL. All along, Carter-Williams was wishing he could be out on the court, too.

“It’s been tough (just watching),” Carter-Williams said. “I wish I could be out there playing and doing what I love, but I know it’s a process and it’s best for me to chill out a little bit and get healthy.”

His rehab schedule has him working three days a week and even though he will travel with the team the Las Vegas Summer League, Carter-Williams will only take part in practices and not compete in games. The normal recovery time from surgery for a torn labrum is two to four months, which means he should be at full strength and ready to go when training camp begins in late September.

Carter-Williams says he’s ignored rumors that have put his name into trades and didn’t panic when the Sixers chose point guard Elfrid Payton with the No. 10 pick in the Draft before trading him to Orlando a short time later, stressing that he’s kept in constant touch with general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown.

“I’ve been with Sam and Coach this whole time,” he said. “Regardless of the rumors or who said what, we stayed in communication and we’re always on the same page. “I’m happy with what the team did. Sam and Coach still have a plan to be put in and I’m real excited.”

First Noel finally arrives in summer


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel scores 19 in his Summer League debut

ORLANDO, Fla. – You’d probably figure that after all the work, all the wait, all the anticipation of finally getting back out onto the court to play a game, the first thing Nerlens Noel would want to do is simply pick up the ball and jam it through the hoop.

So it he did.

It was just 20 seconds into his first summer league game, on his first offensive possession when Noel turned and made his first basket for the 76ers a resounding slam dunk.

“Oh yes, definitely,” Noel said. “It helped the jitters. It set the tone for the game. I was confident.”

He was also ready, active and rather effective playing his first real game in almost 1 1/2 years, following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Noel shot 6-for-11 from the field, scored 19 points and made four steals in just over 26 minutes of an 83-77 loss to the Magic.

“It’s very validating,” Noel said. “It’s been 18 months since I was able to play and it felt great today. I didn’t do as much as I wanted to as far as rebounding and being active defensively. That will come through as I build more stamina, able to be more active and it felt good.

“No mental blocks. It’s been 18 months out. I haven’t been thinking about the knee for a long time. I’m definitely going to continue to work to get it stronger, strong as possible.”

Noel moved smoothly around the court, showed off some slick moves around the basket and was not at all reluctant to get down onto the floor for loose balls.

The 6-foot-11 center was the consensus choice for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft until suffering the knee injury on Feb. 12 of his only season playing college ball at Kentucky. His stock dropped on draft night until Noel was chosen No. 6 by New Orleans and promptly traded to Philly for Jrue Holiday.

“I’m a Philadelphia 76er,” Noel said. “I’m not focused on what happened on draft night. I’m just going forward and gonna continue to grow as a player, person and leader for this team. It motivates me for rehab, but I’m here, I’m a 76er and that’s all I’m focused on.”

Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, who heads up the summer league team, was impressed with the long-awaited debut by Noel.

“One of the scary things with him is he had a couple of steals in the pick and roll coverage,” Pierce said. “That was one of the things I stressed early in the week: How would Nerlens do in the pick and roll coverage?

“He’s got great hands…We want him to be athletic. But we want him to stay disciplined in the scheme. He’s got great timing as a defender and you saw some of that tonight.”

After waiting so long to finally get a glimpse of a player the Sixers believe will be a foundation for the future, the NBA world also saw an impressive array of offensive moves. He was especially impressive on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. First, he caught the eye of forward Hollis Thompson in transition, took a pass just over mid court and drove through traffic for a nice layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play.

“I’m a little quicker than most big men,” Noel said. “I definitely saw the big man lagging back, so with my first step I was able to get by to my left and and at the end he wasn’t able to wrap me up and I was able to finish the play,” Noel said.

The next time down the floor, Noel scored on a feathery teardrop shot from about eight feet.

“I’ve got a lot of reps on those as well,” he said. “I think that’s gonna be big part of my game as well. I’m just expanding my game.”

That expansion included a perfect 7-for-7 night on free throws, the product of a totally reconstructed shooting stroke. He shot just 52.9 percent from the line at Kentucky and team president Sam Hinkie joked last year that 60 percent would a good goal.

“Yeah, I’m real happy,” Noel said. “But I can’t get too happy. It’s a long road ahead of me and I’ve got to stay focused and keep working to get better and better. It’s no time to celebrate now.”

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: GameTime examines the 76ers’ selection of Joel Embiid

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid could miss year | Knicks want Pau | No rush on Rondo | Suns keep rising | McDermott first step
No. 1: Sixers will take the cautious route with Embiid — Remember all those photos of last year’s No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel in street clothes in Philly. Remember how Nerlens Noel never got onto the court while recovering from his knee surgery. Sixers G.M. Sam Hinkie loudly hinted that this year’s top pick Joel Embiid might be nothing more than a spectator as well, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie hinted Friday that Joel Embiid, who was drafted third overall, probably won’t play in the 2014-15 season. That’s because the 7-foot center out of Kansas will miss more time than reported while recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.
“I’ve seen reported some four to six months,” Hinkie said. “That’s not the number I heard. The number I heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months.
“Guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player. We had that discussion before. I don’t want that to sound glib, because it’s not. It is all that matters, honestly.”

***

No. 2: Knicks want to team up Gasol with ‘Melo — While new team president Phil Jackson has been delivering some tough love to free agent Carmelo Anthony lately with talk of taking a pay cut, it seems he’s looking to add some sugar with the addition of Pau Gasol. ESPN’s Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne say that Jackson plans to reach out to his former Lakers center when the free agency period opens at midnight ET on Tuesday:

Furthermore, one source close to the process told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks’ front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
Time will tell if the Knicks’ internal confidence in retaining Anthony proves justified, given that he opted out of the final year of his contract at $23.3 million — with Jackson urging him to opt in — and will soon be courted face-to-face by a handful of top teams in big cities.
The 30-year-old officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and, as ESPN.com reported earlier this week, is planning to go on visits or hold meetings with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers all before the Fourth of July. It also must be noted as July 1 draws near that the Bulls and Rockets have likewise been radiating no shortage of positivity about their chances of stealing Anthony away from the Knicks.

***

No. 3: Celtics are in no hurry to ship out Rondo — The name of Marcus Smart had barely crossed the lips of NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night when the speculation began about the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in Boston. But Steve Bulpett of the the Boston Herald believes there is no reason to start packing the veteran point guard’s bags. First the Celtics will see if they can make a big name addition — i.e. Kevin Love – over the summer to pair with Rondo before entertaining offers:

The Celtics’ first choice in all this is to keep Rondo and find better players to put around him, but if they are unable to do that, they will have to confront the issue of his impending free agency. The club went into its rebuild with last summer’s trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett knowing it had to show a clear path to again being a contender before Rondo could depart on his own in 2015.
What we know for sure is that Ainge will be entertaining some offers for Rondo this summer, but, according to sources, that may still not assure a trade. The opinion here is that the Celts will have a difficult time getting a return for Rondo commensurate with what he means to this team. But they aren’t afraid to wait it out.
Assuming again they are unable to bring in a major player to pair with Rondo, one source confirmed the Celtics would sooner let him walk away than accept a deal that bogs down their salary sheet just to “get something for him.” If they decide trading Rondo is the best course of action, they will dig in and either get what they need to enhance their rebuilding, or they will let him go and take the cap space benefit.

***

No. 4: Suns’ future continues to shine with draft moves — Every team with air in its basketballs come away claiming draft night was a success. However, our own Sekou Smith says that second-year Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough is just selling more sand in the desert after his addition of young talent. After extending qualifying offers on Friday to free agents Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker, the Suns and are in a position to improve on last season’s surprising 48 wins and make more noise in the Western Conference:

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.
That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.
“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”
“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”
The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.
Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

***

No. 5: McDermott tasty, but Bulls hungry for more — The Bulls did some wheeling and dealing, and actually increased their payroll on draft night, to get a player they believe will be a perfect fit in Doug McDermott. But according to our Steve Aschburner, this is still a summer they will only be deemed a rousing success if Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Kevin Love winds up in Chicago:

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million.
Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony — or theoretically James, a real long shot — as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward — shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.
Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson’s proven jewelry box?
Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.
But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.
It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.tory here as you normally would do …

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George clears the air on Lance StephensonJose Calderon believes he could really help Carmelo Anthony…Rockets rookie Capela doesn’t want to wait.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.