It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone — Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Denver…whoever. – Kobe Bryant
Over his 17 seasons in the NBA, Bryant could always guarantee that he’ll do something absolutely amazing with the basketball just about every time he steps onto the court.
He can shake off an 0-for-10 shooting start to bury a half dozen jumpers and an opponent in a fourth-quarter blink of an eye.
He can duck and whirl through traffic, change hands with the ball and squeeze through a crack in the defense for a clutch how-did-he-do-that bucket.
He can rise up with a hand in his face, almost down his throat, and knock down an impossible 3-pointer with the sheer grace.
He can lead a 20-0 comeback in the final 6 1/2 minutes to pull out a dramatic and critical 108-106 win over the Hornets.
But no matter how many times or how emphatically he says it, what Bryant cannot guarantee is all that can happen with the teams in front of his underachieving Lakers in the Western Conference standings. For even if the Lakers put on a strong finishing kick — say 14-6 or 13-7 — they will still likely need one or more of the Warriors, Rockets and Jazz to tumble.
Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Nothing guaranteed. Sometimes it’s not about the hunter, but the prey.
No. 6 — Warriors (35-27)
Back in those long ago days of early February when his team was threatening to compete for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the playoffs, coach Mark Jackson liked to shake his head and scowl at the doubters who didn’t think his Warriors could run and shoot and play defense all at the same time. Maybe those doubts were just premature. Over the past five weeks, the Golden State defense has fallen off any one of the area’s picturesque bridges and sunk to the bottom of the bay. (more…)
I’m back with fantasy winners and losers from last week’s trade deadline.
Josh Smith, Hawks: As good as Josh is, fantasy owners would much rather keep the status quo than suffer through the volatility of a mid-season change of scenery. J.Smoov is going to hand out lots of goodies down the stretch for three reasons. One, he’s in a playoff push. Two, he’s in a contract push. Three, don’t forget about his annual All-Star snub.
Thomas Robinson, Rockets: Robinson barely played for the Kings, who selected him 5th overall in the 2012 draft after leading the NCAA in double-doubles last year. Not sure why the Kings bailed on Robinson after 50 games, but his high-energy style should fit in perfectly with Kevin McHale’s run-and-gun Rockets. If he gets 30 minutes a night, he’ll average a double-double with solid defensive numbers.
Moe Harkless, Magic: When the Magic traded J.J. Redick to Milwaukee, my first thought was that Harkless is free to play all the minutes he wants in Orlando. In upwards of 35 minutes a night, look for 15 points and five rebounds, with 1+ and 1+ in the blocks and steals.
Tobias Harris, Magic: As long as Harkless and Aaron Afflalo stay healthy, Harris will have limited upside. But he is big fantasy winner from the trade deadline because he went from out of the rotation in Milwaukee to a rotation player in Orlando. Harris had 14 points, six rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes in his Magic debut on Saturday, and similar lines would not surprise me going forward.
J.J. Redick, Bucks: Redick was having a breakout season for the Magic, averaging 15.1 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.3 threes in 31.5 minutes. I realize Redick had 16 points and seven assists in 35 minutes in his Bucks’ debut on Saturday, but with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis hoarding most of the backcourt minutes and shots, that stat line was more aberration than trend.
Patrick Patterson, Kings: Patterson was having a hard time maintaining consistent minutes in Houston with Marcus Morris and Greg Smith behind him. Now, he has to battle for playing time with Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes. I like Patterson, but he has been shipped to the Power Forward Abyss known as Sacramento.
Derrick Favors, Jazz: Paul Millsap, who is finishing out the last year of his contract, was the subject of trade rumors heading into to deadline. However, he’s still in Utah—and Favors is still on the bench. Had Millsap been traded, Favors would have been the poster child for fantasy winners of the deadline. At this point, I wouldn’t be mad at you for dropping Favors.
Kris Humphries, Nets: I picked up Hump and stashed him for two weeks leading into the deadline. When he wasn’t traded, I dumped Hump faster than Kim Kardashian.
Rick Kamla is an anchor on NBA TV. You can follow him on Twitter at @NBATVRick.
BROOKLYN – The general consensus is that the Houston Rockets made a great deal in acquiring Thomas Robinson from the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Robinson, selected with the No. 5 pick just eight months ago, has the potential to be one of the best rebounders in the league some day. He’s an active athlete who will only benefit from escaping the dysfunction of Sacramento.
But in making the trade and a subsequent deal with the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets traded both their starting power forward, Patrick Patterson, and his back-up, Marcus Morris. And they either compromised an offensive system that ranks in the top five in efficiency or a defense that has been just good enough to keep them on the right side of the .500 mark.
Robinson may one day start at the four for Houston, but he’s a very different player than both Patterson and Morris. And it’s unclear how he fits into how the Rockets have been playing all season.
Houston is the ultimate pace-and-space team. They play the fastest tempo in the league and they keep the floor spread, allowing James Harden and Jeremy Lin to attack the basket off of pick and rolls. Patterson and Morris played their part as stretch bigs.
At the time of the trade, 13 of the Rockets’ 15 most-used lineups included either Patterson or Morris, who attempted about 60 percent of their shots from outside the paint and accounted for about two 3-pointers per game.
Kevin McHale admitted to having seen very little of his new rookie, but he knows that Robinson isn’t that kind of player.
“We’re going to have space a little bit different,” he said Friday.
For now, the Rockets are making due with Carlos Delfino playing the four, alongside Chandler Parsons at the three. It’s a lineup they’ve used before, but only once (previous to the trades) had it played more than nine minutes together.
General manager Daryl Morey believes that his team can survive, and even thrive, with the Parsons/Delfino tandem at forward.
“It’s sustainable,” Morey told reporters on Thursday. “If you look across the league, when teams play small, they play well. Your offense goes up. Your defense goes down, but your offense goes up more than your defense goes down. So a lot of teams are playing small. We’ve got the personnel to do it. We’ve got the style that fits. I absolutely think it’s a sustainable way to play against almost any opponent.”
McHale doesn’t seem to be completely on board with that sentiment, saying that the Rockets can play Delfino at the four “situationally.” The bottom line is that the two trades took two guys out of McHale’s rotation and replaced them with a question mark.
But so far, so good. After Friday’s 106-96 win in Brooklyn, the Rockets are 2-0 with their new starting lineup, with wins over the Thunder and Nets. They’ve been outrebounded in each game, but have shot 31-for-63 (49 percent) from beyond the arc.
Over the course of the season, the Rockets’ new lineup has been excellent offensively, scoring 112.9 points per 100 possessions in 133 minutes together. It’s yet to be really hurt on the glass and held its own defensively.
Really, it’s just taking the pace-and-space style to a new level. Less size, more shooting. Delfino has played 79 minutes over the last two games after averaging just 25 per game before the trades. He knows that he can only try his best to keep power forwards like Reggie Evans off the boards, and that the Rockets can take advantage of the same matchup offensively.
“When we go small, we play against big people and we try to create space,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s not just me getting my shots or having the ball, but [it's] rotations. They don’t rotate off me and they have more space in the paint.”
That’s exactly what happened in the first half on Friday. The Nets stayed at home on Delfino on the weak side, and the Rockets got a handful of dunks and layups off their pick and roll. Harden was the star against OKC on Wednesday, but his team managed to beat Brooklyn on Friday despite a relatively quiet night (22 points and only five trips to the line) from their All-Star.
Time will tell if the small lineup can hold up over time and keep the Lakers at bay in the playoff chase, and if Robinson has a place in McHale’s rotation this season. Certainly, 49 percent from 3-point range isn’t sustainable, but Houston does have an easier schedule than L.A. going forward.
One additional note: While the Sacramento trade makes complete sense, the trade that sent Morris to Phoenix for the Suns’ second-round pick was a little more curious. Morris wasn’t playing big minutes every night, but he obviously would have helped replace Patterson’s production if the Rockets had just made the one deal.
Morey said that he likes having high second-round picks and one has to wonder if the Rockets have already fallen in love with a player they project will be available when that Suns selection comes up. Right now, it’s set to be the No. 35 pick in the draft.
Houston got Parsons with the No. 38 pick two years ago.
HANG TIME, Texas — If the Lakers require a boost to become a playoff team rather than mere wannabes, the trade deadline deals by the Rockets could be just the leg up they need.
Currently sitting in the No. 8 spot in the West with a 3 1/2 game lead on Team Dysfunctional, Houston is virtually sending a stretch limo and holding open the door for the Lakers.
In trading starting power forward Patrick Patterson for Thomas Robinson, the Rockets did nothing at all to solidify their lineup for the stretch run of the season. By also swapping out Marcus Morris, the final 26 games of the season are being turned over to rookie Donatas Motiejunas, NBA D-Leaguer hustler Greg Smith and whatever Robinson might chip in at the four spot.
“Our goal is to get to the championship,” said Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. “That’s goal No. 1. Goal No. 2 is to make the playoffs this year. The good thing is I don’t think those goals are in conflict with this move.
“We feel like Thomas Robinson has a lot of upside for the bigger goal of getting back to being a contender. And we think we can just just as solid. If we made it harder (to make the playoffs this season), it’s just a little bit harder.”
There is virtually nothing to criticize with what the Rockets did. Patterson and Morris, while solid in their jobs, do not come close to holding the potential of the 21-year-old Robinson, who was the No. 5 pick in the draft just eight months ago and, in the eyes of many, possessed the talent to be taken even higher. The Rockets believe he can be a high-energy, rebounding monster that can run the floor and mesh perfectly with James Harden and Jeremy Lin, while helping Omer Asik far more on the boards and Patterson or Morris ever would. In addition, they picked up a high, second-round draft pick that could be valuable. Plus, the aggregate salaries of the four players the Rockets traded could give them between $15 million and $20 million to spend on free agents next summer.
Already the youngest team in the league, the Rockets are playing the long game and the future suddenly looks very bright. So while hanging onto the No. 8 seed in the playoffs would be a nice bauble, the right to get slapped around by the Spurs or Thunder in the first round isn’t an end.
But it is not exaggerating to say that it could provide the Lakers with the opening they need to save this season and their future. Let’s face it: the chances of getting Dwight Howard to sign a new contract that would keep him around as the foundation of the next generation in purple and gold would be helped by the Lakers making the playoffs. If they finish on the outside, whatever criticism of Howard’s shortcomings that currently exist will only be ratcheted up.
In addition, if the Lakers do manage to claw their way into the postseason, it would mean that they have somehow pulled things together and played better over the final third of the schedule. Unlike the youthful Rockets, who might wander into the playoffs with their jaws agape, a Lakers team with momentum along with Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and a recovered Pau Gasol in the lineup would be least have the veteran puncher’s chance to pulling off the upset and advancing.
Especially over the next few weeks as they move two rookies — Motiejunas and point guard Patrick Beverly — into the rotation, the Rockets have practically eliminated their margin for error and given the Lakers a chance to wipe out all of their wrongs of the past four months.
It’s quite fitting that it’s Oscar Week. The Rockets have just rolled out the red carpet for the Lakers.
If Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was a movie, the audience would have walked out in the middle from boredom. This freeze came straight from the script that is the league’s new collective bargaining agreement — with its harsher luxury tax penalties and diminished roster flexibility for tax offenders — it put the clamps on a stunningly uneventful deadline day.
The big names were on the opening credits: Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Yet, when the curtain closed at 3 p.m. ET, Orlando Magic sharpshooter J.J. Redick stole the show as the lone player of significance to switch teams. The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the career 39.8 percent 3-point shooter in a six-player deal that involved five other relatively anonymous NBA names.
Only one potential blockbuster deal percolated, but ultimately died on the vine with the Atlanta Hawks going the distance in an attempt to strike a deal with the Bucks for Smith before pulling back. One reason so few big deals were discussed was simply because there wasn’t much talent realistically in play, a point that goes beyond any ramifications of the CBA.
The CBA that took effect in December 2011, and begins to smack tax-paying teams with stiffer fines next season, has clearly put franchises on the defensive. Teams that were once willing to add salary to consummate a deal no longer are. Teams that once didn’t think twice about sweetening a deal with a first-round pick, suddenly guard them with their lives.
“Cap room and draft picks, which are usually the currency of how these [big] deals get done, were at a huge premium and are something that everyone wants to have,” said Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who steered the most active club at the deadline with a couple of lower-tier deals.
There’s really no greater example of the effect of these changes than the Dallas Mavericks and their braintrust, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson. Chronic and strategic over-spenders and tax payers under the old CBA, Cuban, who took on salary in deadline deals for Jason Kidd in 2008 and Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson in 2010, analyzed the new rules and reversed field last year.
He dismantled the 2011 championship team, choosing to covet cap space and the roster flexibility granted to teams that remain under the tax threshold, as well as newfound valuing of first-round draft picks as low-priced labor and trade assets.
It’s a strategy that no longer has the Mavs on speed dial of teams looking to make a deal and dump salary.
“It’s definitely a factor,” Nelson said of the CBA’s chilling effect Thursday after the deadline expired. “There’s no question that folks have their eye on the inevitable, and there’s no question that people are getting their collective houses in order.
“There’s some teams that see that on the horizon and act early, and other teams that will procrastinate and pay a dear price. But I think we’re right in the middle of that. It’s not brand-new news and so, yeah, I think you’re going to see a lot of teams try to correct themselves financially.”
The so-called “repeater” tax really has teams scared. Several clubs tried to deal away lost-cost players to avoid the repeater tax, which will whack franchises with an additional fine if they go over the tax line in three of four seasons. Golden State was successful in this venture. Chicago was not and will pay a luxury tax for the first time since its implementation.
This “repeater” penalty deterred teams from making deals that would have pushed payroll even slightly over the tax line, deals they might have normally green-lighted in the old days. So, is this the way of the future under the current rules?
“I can’t predict the future,” Morey said, “but I think the trend is more this way.”
Rockets: Morey’s stockpiling of assets the last couple years has been questioned, but he’s turned it into quite a haul starting with James Harden prior to the start of the season. The day before the deadline, Morey acquired the No. 5 overall pick, Thomas Robinson, from Sacramento. Morey’s dealing didn’t damage an abundance of cap space next summer that will be used to pursue a top free agent such as Dwight Howard and Josh Smith.
Bucks: GM John Hammond didn’t get his big fish in Smith, but he pulled off the deal for Redick, who should really help a club that’s been skidding down the East standings and needs a boost. Hammond held onto Jennings and Ellis and will have room to maneuver in the summer to add more pieces.
Thunder: GM Sam Presti continues to make shrewd moves. The acquisition of Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a second-round pick gives OKC another strong perimeter defender to help Thabo Sefolosha.
Celtics:Jordan Crawford might not be Jamal Crawford, but he can score in bunches and Boston was desperate to bolster its injury-ravaged guard backcourt. Boston fans are the winners here, too, with the team’s heart and soul, Garnett and Pierce, staying put.
Mavericks: Sure, on the surface, picking up 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow for defensive-minded guard Dahntay Jones doesn’t sound like much. But then SheridanHoops.com reminded us of this Dwight Howard interview in Russia when he named Morrow as one of a handful of players he’d like to have as a teammate.
Blazers: The team with the leanest bench in the NBA finally got some help in a minor deal that netted OKC guard Eric Maynor, who lost his job early on to Reggie Jackson. Maynor will help Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damian Lillard reduce his 38.5 mpg workload.
Hawks: They didn’t get the deal done to ship out Smith and now it seems they will lose him for nothing in free agency. On one level, however, it’s hard to say that this is a definitive loss. They’ll keep Smith (who might or might not come away from this experience deflated) for the rest of the season, and, with any luck, try to keep him while recruiting friend and fellow Atlantan Howard next summer. If GM Danny Ferry wasn’t pleased with the deals presented, it doesn’t always pay to take something, anything just because in the end you could be left with nothing. If Smith leaves, the Hawks will take the cap space and look to spin it in their favor.
Magic: They deal away a useful player and one they drafted in Redick and hand over his Bird Rights to the Bucks. There was no guarantee that Redick would re-sign with Orlando, but he at least had said the door was open to a return. The Magic’s Josh McRoberts to Charlotte deal for Hakim Warrick is a head-scratcher.
Knicks: They didn’t upgrade at any position and gave away a solid defender in Brewer, who was starting for the club during their hot start out of the gates, but had slipped out of the rotation. New York did use the roster vacancy to sign veteran power forward Kenyon Martin.
Nets: They failed to land another high-priced player in Smith and failed to unload one of their own, Kris Humphries.
Of the 249 players who have attempted at least 200 field goals this season, Garcia has the second lowest free throw rate, getting to the line just 6.8 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. Only the Knicks’ Steve Novak (6.4) has a lower free throw rate. And like Novak, Garcia is a catch-and-shoot guy. Of his 77 field goals, 69 have been assisted.
HOUSTON – Sometimes the future looks so bright that you need sunglasses.
Or maybe that’s just the solar flare that is James Harden.
Three nights after the All-Star circus left town, Harden put on a show that could have filled all three rings under the big top.
There were a career-high 46 points to go with eight rebounds, six assists, a steal and a blocked shot. It all came on 14-for-19 shooting from the field, 7-for-8 on 3-pointers and 11-for-12 from the line.
“That’s as efficient a game as you can play in the NBA,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
It was also necessary, since the Thunder are the Thunder and the Rockets were playing with only 10 bodies in uniform after the pre-game dealing sentPatrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas out of town.
While general manager Daryl Morey was doing his usual juggling act at the trade deadline — giving the Rockets a puncher’s chance at power forward with the addition of Thomas Robinson — Harden was once again the lion tamer, cracking his whip and taking complete control.
This was the kind of game that the OKC stars Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook usually put in a chokehold coming down the stretch, but instead it was their old buddy who took it into his hands and squeezed tight.
From the time he stepped to the free-throw line with the 6:29 left to play and the Rockets down by a dozen, the scoring the rest of the way showed: Harden 14, Thunder 12.
Any Rockets game has become the most entertaining NBA game to watch on any given night. That’s because of their frantic pace of play, constant desire to attack the lane, their ability to rain down 3s.
Nobody player has done more in the league this season to change the face and outlook for a franchise than Harden. With him relentlessly driving at the basket or pulling up to stab jumpers, he’s an offensive force every bit as unstoppable when he’s rolling as Durant, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Give Morey credit for pulling off the deal that brought him to Houston and for also adding supporting cast members Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik. Give the G.M. credit for forging ahead with a plan that has the Rockets already well positioned under the salary cap for free agency next summer and for swinging Wednesday’s deal that could pay off huge if Robinson comes to town and delivers on the talent that made him the No. 5 pick in the draft.
The Rockets have become a team that is attractive to free agents because they have someone who belonged on the floor with the rest of the All-Stars Sunday night with a game and style and confidence that should draw help down the line like a magnet attracts metal filings.
Keep the sunglasses handy. Truth is, Harden might be just beginning to glow.
HOUSTON — Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and The Sundance Kid had nothing on Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey.
The itchiest trigger finger in the NBA got things rolling in the countdown to the trade deadline by shipping out two power forward candidates who hadn’t panned out and bringing back another with plenty of talent and still something to prove.
Officially, it was Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich going to the Kings for Thomas Robinson, Tyler Honeycutt and Francisco Garcia and Marcus Morris going to the Suns for a second round draft pick.
But the essence of the deal was the Rockets taking a shot at the 6-foot-10 Robinson, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft and a bundle of raw ability that many evaluators thought was the No. 2 pick of the litter eight months ago.
In two seasons, Patterson never established himself as a low post player on offense and did not carry his weight as a rebounder. Morris, too, is a decent mid-range shooter who also does not make his presence felt on the glass.
While there were character issues that surrounded Robinson before the draft and he was labeled a problem early in Sacramento and did not bloom, it is a move that is certainly worth the gamble for the Rockets.
If Robinson gets his act together and plays up to his potential, they’ve got a 21-year-old power forward who could fit in nicely on a roster that will now give him all the minutes he needs. If not, he carries a manageable $3.5 million contract that is only guaranteed through next season and also more cap space for free agency next summer. The Rockets were a team that had room to sign a max level free agent and another significant player and now they’ve carved out more room.
It is not on the blockbuster level of Morey’s deal that landed James Harden four days before the season opener. But it’s the kind of shrewd, low-risk deal that could set the Rockets up for an even bigger bang down the line.
It was lonely last week without the star attraction. But never fear Fool fans: JaVale is back! The one and only JaVale McGee makes his triumphant return to Shaqtin’ A Fool this week, along with Jerryd Bayless, J.J. Hickson, Thomas Robinson and Kendrick Perkins. Vote for your favorite Shaqtin’ A Fool moment!
Kings coach Keith Smart mentioned something strange the other day. He said Thomas Robinson, the rookie from Kansas, is being shown clips of Denver’s Kenneth Faried as a player to emulate.
Both are young power forwards, both needing to develop offensive games, both relying on enviable amounts of athleticism. It’s easy to see Smart drawing a straight line from one to the other.
Faried, the No. 22 pick in 2011 — a spot in the draft where most are just trying to crack the rotation in their second season — is barely getting started with his career and an opposing coach is telling a lottery pick and projected foundation of Sacramento’s future to be like the guy who has yet to play an 82-game schedule. That’s a special compliment and a sign of how far Faried has come. At 10 rebounds a game in just 29.5 minutes — relatively limited time for a starter — he has already blown past the expectations of a lot of teams who passed on him in the draft as too small at 6-foot-8 or too one dimensional with a lacking offense. But, look, he is a key part of an offense after all.
The mid-range game he has worked to improve is still very much a work in progress, so Faried is still only a threat close to the basket. Yet there he is, the No. 4 scorer on the Nuggets, at 12.3 points a game and 53.1 percent from the field, even with a slight cooling in December.
“There’s no play in the book for him, but every night he’s going to end up with 10, 15 and sometimes 20 points because of the effort he gives,” Smart said. “Pushing the ball up the floor, he runs with those guys. He gets out on the break and finishes up a lot of those breaks.
“Those are hustle points. That’s where you get to a point where a coach can write it down: ‘Tonight, no play call, and I can [still] put down 10 to 15 every night.’ I know I’m going to put that in a little file cabinet and every single night, maybe seven out of 10 times, he’s going to have those numbers. That’s what he does.”
Faried has already established himself far beyond what some teams would have imagined a year ago at this time, when Faried’s rookie season was just about to begin without a summer league or much of a training camp. If he starts dropping in 14-footers and gets up to 16 or 17 points a game, along with the double-digit rebounding, then a lot of video departments will be burning a “Kenneth Faried mix” to hand out to young players.
“I don’t think I’ve come that far yet,” Faried countered. “I think I’ve still got more to go.”
But he also has quickly earned an important spot on a playoff team.
“I’m excited I [have],” Faried said. “But I’m not content. I think I have more in me. I can bring more. One day – I believe it, I’ll say it – I can become an All-Star.”
He will have to settle for shining example for now.