Posts Tagged ‘Steve Francis’

Rockets’ Morey Lands (D)wight Whale

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HOUSTON — Ahab and Moby Dick. Snoopy and the Red Baron. A Kardashian and a camera.

Talk about your classic chases through history.

Daryl Morey landed his (D)wight whale and finally has reason to throw up his hands and gloat, if not plan ahead for even more elaborate celebrations down the line.

In getting All-Star center Dwight Howard to pick the Rockets in the free-agent lollapalooza, Morey not only won the big prize, but also earned vindication for what was often characterized as a quixotic quest to land the type of player that could put Houston back into the conversation for an NBA championship.

Now in less than eight months, he has pulled James Harden and Howard into the boat and Morey is still sailing on with attempts to trade for wing man Josh Smith.

For a Rockets franchise that has not sipped from a champion’s cup in nearly two decades and has won just a single playoff series since 1997, it is heady stuff, like pulling a vintage Rolls-Royce out of a ditch.

Howard becomes the latest in a line of elite big men to play for the Rockets, the linear descendant of Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming. It was, in part, the urging of Olajuwon that nudged Howard toward his decision. But more than anything it was the maneuvering of the roster and the salary cap by Morey that convinced Howard that this was the place that he could establish himself as not only a highly-paid All-Star, but a true winner.

Howard forced his way out of Orlando because he didn’t believe Magic management was committed to doing all that it took after he led the team to The Finals in 2009. He turned his back on the Lakers after one miserable, tumultuous, underachieving season, probably because of the age of his key teammates — Kobe Bryant (34), Steve Nash (39), Pau Gasol (32) and Metta World Peace (33). He couldn’t risk what the Warriors would have to give up in a trade to get him and going home to play in Atlanta was never a real option.

What Morey has done — and is still working to supplement — is to put Howard back in the middle of a young roster where he can be the sun in the center of the solar system, yet feed off the 23-year-old Harden, who positively erupted as an elite level scorer last season.

This is a Rockets team that won 45 games last season by playing a pedal-to-the-medal offensive style and will continue to try to score in transition. But Howard gives them an interior force at both ends of the court and they will shift toward those strengths.

There is already talk of Howard resuming his offseason workout regimen with the Hall of Famer Olajuwon, the Houston icon and deliverer of the only two championships in franchise history. But the truth is that Howard’s game and his style and his physical skills are nothing akin to Hakeem the Dream’s. The key partner — and possibly one difference-maker in the decision — is coach Kevin McHale, a Hall of Fame member himself, who is generally regarded as one of the best big men in the history of the game and possessed unparalleled footwork in the low post.

Now, of course, the burden is clearly and squarely on the back of Howard to produce. If he thought the pressure of playing in the Hollywood spotlight of the Lakers was great, now he must live up to his four-year, $88-million price tag. He said he would choose the team that gave him his best chance to win championships and now that bill comes due with interest. See: LeBron James, summer of 2010.

It was all of these ingredients that Morey mixed into a stew that he was willing to let simmer for as long as it would take to get a plate this full. Constantly swapping draft picks and contracts and assets for six years, he went all in with a hand that for the longest time it seemed only he believed in.

After two years of a soap opera/clown show that traveled from coast to coast, Howard should be hungry as well as driven.

As recently as a year ago, Howard sent word out that he was not the least bit interested in helping the Rockets rebuild from the ground up. But that never even made Morey stop for a second to blink, and it was before the GM pulled a rabbit and Harden out of his hat four days prior to the season opener last October. Even when Howard went to L.A. and was presumed to have found his place among the pantheon of Lakers center, Morey pushed on. Now he has turned the equivalent of a pocketful of beans – Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb — into Howard and Harden, two members of the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team. It could turn out to be the greatest tandem trade of all time. Thank you, Sam Presti.

This is a once-proud franchise that had fallen into disrepair and disrespect following the retirement of Olajuwon, the dark ages of the Steve Francis Era, the crumbling of Yao’s feet and ankles and the wilting of Tracy McGrady’s spine. They had already changed coaches three times in 10 years. It was on that treadmill of mediocrity that one guy chased his plan, his hope, his goal.

Daryl Morey finally landed his (D)wight whale and now the real fun begins.

Rockets’ Playoff Return A First Step

 

HOUSTON — Maybe it was fitting that James Harden’s shot kicked off the rim, took a bounce and received an unintentional assist from Jermaine O’Neal that carried the Rockets into the playoffs.

It was Harden himself who practically fell out of the sky right into the laps of the Rockets just four days before the start of the season that began the return to respectability and relevance.

“I didn’t know who was on the team. I didn’t know what was going on,” Harden said. “I was still kind of shocked. Weeks went by and a month went by. We kind of gained confidence in one another that we can go out and compete with anybody in this league. It’s been that way through this whole entire season and now we’re in the playoffs.”

The Rockets are back in the postseason for the first time in four years, having spent the past three springs with their noses pressed up against the window pane, tantalizingly close and yet locked out of the fun. For three straight years — with win totals of 42, 43 and 34 (in lockout-shortened 2012) — they had been the last team to miss out on the playoffs. Or took the best record into the draft lottery. Any way that you said it, the result was simply frustrating.

While team owner Leslie Alexander has been steadfast to “dive” for a chance at the bonanza offered by the draft lottery, general manager Daryl Morey has been more frantic than a one-armed juggler of chain saws to make and remake the roster again and again and again. It was that constant turmoil that led to exasperation by former coach Rick Adelman and an eventual parting of the ways. It has been an ongoing process that still puts constant new challenges into the path of coach Kevin McHale in his second season.

Even now, the Rockets are a laboratory project still in development. Houston is the NBA’s youngest team with an average age of 24.9 years and opened the season as the most inexperienced NBA team in the shot-clock era, based on minutes played.

The Rockets are the sixth-youngest team in history to reach the playoffs. The Thunder teams of 2010 and 2011, led by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, are the youngest ever. Next in line are the Trail Blazers of 2009, led by Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Bulls of 2006 with Luol Deng and Ben Gordon and the Hawks of 2008, led by Joe Johnson and Al Horford.

Despite Harden’s rapid rise to the league’s elite level, his first appearance in the All-Star Game and rank among the league’s top five scorers along with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Durant, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the Rockets are still greener than most young sprouts of spring. Harden has been to the playoffs the past three seasons and went to The Finals last year with OKC, but is still only 23. Point guard Jeremy Lin is 24. Center Omer Asik is 26, but his is only his third year in the league and the first that he’s played starter’s minutes.

Though a 13-6 record over the past six weeks has made the return to the playoffs seem inevitable, it was not made official until Utah lost to the Thunder shortly after the Rockets beat Phoenix on Tuesday night.

“I actually didn’t think I would be excited,” Lin said. “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going for the six seed.’ Now that it’s really here, I’m actually really excited because no one really gave us a chance going into the season that we’d be in the playoffs.”

The Rockets have been a franchise stuck in a rut, mired in mediocrity since the glory days of their back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. While this is now their 18th winning record since the 1992-93 season — only the Spurs and Lakers have more at 19 — they have had precious little playoff success. In fact, the Rockets have won only a single playoff series — vs. Portland in 2009 — since 1997 when some of the names on the backs of the jerseys read: Olajuwon, Drexler and Barkley.

There was always hope and unfulfilled promise during the eras of Steve Francis, then Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. But never the kind of results that were expected.

So when the wheeler-dealer Morey was able to land Harden on the eve of this season, it was the first step in his long held plan to put a franchise-type player on the court to build around and then supplement with the likes of Lin, Asik and Chandler Parsons.

In the process, the Rockets have turned into a fast-paced, 3-point shooting, prolific offensive club that most often produces the most entertaining games of any given night on NBA LeaguePass.

This will all lead into a summer of trying to land another big-name free agent, another All-Star caliber player, who can vault the Rockets back onto the level of title contenders.

But first things first and that was Harden’s shot that bounced high off the rim, O’Neal’s unofficial assist by goaltending and finally the Rockets taking an initial step back into the playoff conversation.

No Time For Cavs’ Irving To Go No ‘Dimes’

 

Maybe it was the bruised index finger on Kyrie Irving’s left hand that threw off the equilibrium of his game against Dallas Saturday night. Maybe it was the four-game losing streak his Cleveland Cavaliers already were riding and an urgency to do something – too much of something – that can grip young, talented players.

Whatever it was, it wound up ugly and rare: A performance in which Irving scored 26 points but accounted for exactly zero rebounds and zero assists in the home loss to Dallas.

Look, the Cavaliers’ main problem – as it’s been all season – was defense; Dallas shot 51.4 percent, including 10-of-23 from the arc, and Cleveland ranks 29th in defensive rating (109.5).

And as Irving noted afterward, “I was still finding the open man, but sometimes the shots just don’t fall.” His Cavs teammates shot a combined 33.3% (25-of-75), which made his 11-of-21 blistering by comparison.

Then there was the finger bruise, as reported by Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Irving had the rare stat line of 26 points, no rebounds and no assists. He said it was the first time in his life he didn’t have an assist.

The Cavs have typically struggled at the start of the fourth quarter when Irving is resting, but he was available for the fourth Saturday, since he injured his left index finger and spent most of the third quarter getting it examined.

X-rays were negative and Irving returned with the finger taped, but it affected him in the fourth quarter.

“I wasn’t feeling comfortable putting the ball in my left hand,” he said. “Attacking the rim, I only had one hand, so I was trying to force shots over Chris Kaman. It definitely affected me, but it still doesn’t defeat the fact we need to get stops on the defensive end.”

Nor does it defeat the idea that someone with a bum finger (even on his preferred non-shooting hand) might have been better off distributing rather than forcing. Cleveland’s non-Irving participants in the fourth quarter shot 5-for-12. The whole team had just two assists in that period.

For perspective’s sake, Irving’s Mavericks counterpart Darren Collison shot 5-of-8 but had a game-high eight assists. Irving is the better player by far overall, but not on this night, not in this game.

For even more perspective, there’s this: Forget the rebounds – that’s not really his job – and forget all the shooting guards that have posted stats lines like this one. The last legit point guard who took at least 21 field-goal attempts in an NBA game (regular season or playoff) and passed for no assists whatsoever was Houston’s Steve Francis. More than 10 years ago. That’s not the sort of company Irving wants to keep.

Draft Night Redux: No Blockbusters?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We waited all night on that blockbuster deal, only to walk away from another Draft night without any of the rumored mega deals taking place.

(Houston, we have a problem … and it includes that red and white No. 12 Dwight Howard jersey  that won’t get worn this season)

That’s fine, we’re just hours away from the start of free agency. And the Draft class of 2012 offered up plenty of mild surprises (Dion Waiters to Cleveland with the fourth overall pick, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III lasting until near the end of the first round, etc.), as always.

Ah, the joy of the Draft night drama that was …

BERNARD JAMES, AMERICAN HERO!

It’s not often the 33rd pick in any draft absolutely steals the show from the other 59 guys selected. But Florida State’s Bernard James got the loudest roar from the crowd in Newark last night.

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Start The Camp Countdown

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We can see the starting blocks now.

Training camp is around the corner.

The official start is still a few weeks away, but if you pop your head into the practice facility of just about any team today you’re guaranteed to see NBA players getting a head start on the 2010-11 season.

They realize what’s at stake. They know how important the first steps of a marathon can be for anyone with playoff or even loftier expectations.

Summer school is over folks — and don’t you wish the folks grading your papers in college were the same folks handing out these summer report cards around here (not a single F was delivered, not one)?

The pressure is on all around the league, on players, coaches and front office types that understand the time to make a move up the league’s food chain is now. Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers were the only ones that could go into the summer with any feeling of satisfaction, knowing full well that the good vibrations could last for only so long.

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It’s time to the make the donuts again, or close to it, and that means there are questions we need answered.

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Finally, A Worthy Debate

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In the days ahead you will be bombarded with NBA award picks from all over the place, some worth your time and others … not so much.

We won’t waste your time before it’s time with postseason awards around here.

But NBA TV analyst Eric Snow has presented us with a topic worthy of a healthy debate:

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Right off the top there are a few problems with this list.

Kevin Johnson at No. 10? You cannot be serious. And for the record, neither Steve Francis nor Nate Robinson qualify (on the Hang Time scale) as point guards, I don’t care that they are listed as such elsewhere.

Two of the current dunking PGs, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, have a chance to climb into the Top 3 of any list.

But you have to weigh in on this one.

Who are your best dunking PGs of all time?