Report: GM Daryl Morey making ‘aggresive’ moves to improve roster
Kelly Cohen | RocketsWire
Are the Houston Rockets about to blow up their roster?
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, general manager Daryl Morey is showing an “aggressive desire” to improve the team’s roster — and “all players and picks [are] available in talks.”
It is pretty unlikely that superstar James Harden going to go if something big happens with the Roser, but it is obvious that all other players under contract, which includes Chris Paul, are available to be moved.
NBA watchers knew this was going to happen after the Rockets were bounced from the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons by the Golden State Warriors. This was supposed to be Houston’s season to finally beat the Warriors, and they appeared to have the series in their grasp when Kevin Durant went down in Game 5 with a calf injury.
The Rockets are expected to have seven players guaranteed for $117.7 million, assuming Nene opts into his $3.8 million player option. They have $4.2 million in non-guaranteed salaries toward Chris Chiozza, Michael Frazier and Isaiah Hartenstein, who is only guaranteed for $708,426. Altogether they have $122.2 million in total salaries, putting them just $7.5 million below the luxury tax. They will certainly be a luxury tax team this season once they fill out the rest of their roster.
We may not have realized the extent of it, however.
In a new story on ESPN from Baxter Holmes, the team is shown to be in complete disarray. The front office is reportedly unsure of the team’s strategy, LeBron James’ agent is sowing seeds of discontent, and players are actively confused about who is running the team.
“It’s f—-ng crazy over there,” said a former player according to the report, and all of it appears to fall at the hands of the two people who were running the team: Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka.
It all started with the team signing LeBron James, an undoubtedly great move, followed by some very bad ones. According to the report, the coaching staff was bewildered at the talent that was put around him by Johnson and Pelinka.
“We all had the same reaction that the basketball world did, like what the f— are we doing?” one Lakers coaching staff member told ESPN. “Not only are we not getting shooting, but we’re also getting every basket case left on the market.”
“We were all confused,” a front office staffer said. “All of it made no sense.”
Another major revelation: According to the report, LeBron James’ agent Rich Paul was actively trying to sabotage Luke Walton as the head coach of the Lakers, letting anyone who would listen to him — including NBA Commissioner Adam Silver — know that he thought Walton was ill-equipped to lead the team.
That’s not totally unusual, as agents will often petition for their players to get coaches in they want to play with. What was unusual, according to the report, was that Paul was granted unusually close access to the team, including flying on the team’s charter plane for away games.
All that led to a complete mess for the culture of the squad and the coaches.
Given those perceptions, one former Lakers player described Paul’s presence on the team charter as a “culture killer.”
“Coaches know Rich is trying to get them fired, and players know Rich is trying to get them traded,” said one agent with ties to the Lakers, who called Paul’s presence on the plane “destructive.”
Given Klutch’s access, rival agents — even those representing players on the roster — said they were wary of allowing young clients to join the Lakers, fearing they’d be recruited or poached.
The reason that Paul was allowed on the team charter? Sources at the Lakers put that on Johnson and Pelinka, who were too inexperienced to handle someone like Paul, and perhaps too checked out to understand what his presence was doing to the team’s chemistry.
Magic Johnson denies that he abused Lakers employees: ‘That’s not what I’m all about’
Jason Owens | Yahoo Sports
The season of tumult surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers hit yet another new height Tuesday with the bombshell exposé from ESPN’s Baxter Holmes further shedding light on the dysfunction of the Magic Johnson-Rob Pelinka era.
In addition to stories about Pelinka being labeled as a pathological liar and Linda Rambis acting as a “shadow owner” to influence the decisions of controlling owner and friend Jeanie Buss, the piece cited multiple sources describing Johnson as a “fear monger” who allegedly fostered a working environment that led to two employees having panic attacks that required medication and therapy for one of them.
Magic Johnson defends himself
Johnson appeared on ESPN Tuesday afternoon for a previously scheduled appearance on an NBA Finals preview special with network personalities Stephen A. Smith and Michael Wilbon.
Before getting on with the business of talking Warriors and Raptors, Johnson was compelled to defend himself. Sitting alongside two of the biggest Magic Johnson cheerleaders in sports media, he did so against a report that came from the very same network’s internet arm.
Magic: ‘I’ve never abused an employee’
“I’ve never sat in an HR person’s office in 35 years,” Johnson said. “Two years with the Lakers, no HR appearance. Do you think Jeannie Buss would allow me to abuse the employees?
“It never happened. I’m a person who brings everybody together, uplifts the employees. I’ve never abused an employee. I never will. That’s not what I’m all about.”
Johnson talks Rich Paul
Johnson also addressed the report that LeBron James’ agent Rich Paul had significant influence on the running of the team and that his appearance on team flights created discord among coaches and players who believed he was maneuvering to have them removed.
Johnson explained that Paul had access to the team because he represents two Lakers players — James and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — and that he green-lit Paul to fly back with the team from Brooklyn, but just on one occasion.
Magic: Don’t call me lazy
He also addressed reports that he was not active in his role a president of basketball operations and insinuations that he was lazy.
“I have built a $600 million business,” Johnson said. “You cannot be lazy going from playing basketball and winning five championships. So I wasn’t lazy as a player, and I’m not lazy as a CEO and a business owner.”
Hiatus from Lakers talk
Citing a desire to get the Lakers out of the news cycle, Johnson promised that Tuesday was the last time he would talk about the Lakers until a scheduled July appearance to discuss offseason moves on Smith’s morning show “First Take,” the same platform he used to rip Pelinka with his own Lakers exposé last week.
But before embarking on his Lakers-talk hiatus, he once again focused on the accusations that he mistreated employees, an assertion that defies his image as affable, gregarious and a genuinely nice guy. He acknowledged that there were tensions at times among employees, but that it was part of his doing his job.
‘OK if you wanna try and lie about Magic’
“I’m a guy that will tell you the truth,” Johnson said. “A lot of Lakers employees didn’t like that I held them accountable. That’s what my job was. Did I have to fire some people? Yes. Because we had to bring about change to get better.
“Nobody has every called me and said ‘Magic mistreated an employee.’ Ever. And that will never happen. … It’s OK if you wanna try and lie on Magic. Go ahead. But I know the truth. Jeannie knows the truth. If I had disrespected somebody, she would have called me in the office.”
NBA odds: Warriors now have better chance signing Kawhi Leonard than Lakers
Dalton Johnson | NBC SPORTS
As the Warriors attempt to become the first team to three-peat since the Lakers of the early 2000s, there’s been one big question hanging over the team — what will Kevin Durant do this summer in free agency?
The same can’t be said to same extent with the Raptors, but Toronto has their own superstar in the NBA Finals who very well could be out there door. Like Durant, many people expect Kawhi Leonard to find a new team this summer.
Caesars Palace Sports Book currently has the Clippers as the favorites to sign Leonard with -200 odds. The Raptors are right behind them, but there’s quite the surprising team with the fourth-best odds, well ahead of the Lakers.
Could the Warriors really go from Durant to Leonard as their next superstar? Well, it wouldn’t exactly be that easy.
Contractually, the Warriors couldn’t just hand the money they’d save to Leonard if Durant leaves. A move like this would require quite the roster shakeup, most likely to core players like Klay Thompson — who is a free agent this summer — or Draymond Green.
Would the Warriors consider it, though? With this franchise and the opening of the Chase Center next season, never say never.
The Warriors’ last playoff battle with Kawhi Leonard set the stage for the 2019 NBA Finals
Josh Schrock | NBC SPORTS
“I am inevitable.”
These are the words the supervillain Thanos imparts on Tony Stark in Marvel’s latest blockbuster “: Endgame.”
But they very well could have been Kawhi Leonard’s parting phrase to the Warriors the last time the dynastic force saw the two-way star in the playoffs.
It was Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference finals.
The Warriors’ first playoff run with Kevin Durant in the fold had been flawless through the first two rounds, as Golden State swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round and handed the Utah Jazz the same fate in Round 2.
Waiting for the Dubs in the conference finals was Leonard and the 61-win San Antonio Spurs, a team that believed they were better than the superteam Warriors and was thirsting to prove it.
Through the first two-and-a-half quarters of Game 1, the Warriors were in a world of trouble.
Leonard attacked Durant, Andre Iguodala, Matt Barnes and anyone the Warriors put on him, as the Spurs roared out to a 25-point lead behind Leonard’s 26 points.
But midway through the third quarter, Leonard drilled a corner 3-pointer and stepped on teammate David Lee’s foot along the sideline, rolling his already sprained left ankle. Shortly thereafter, Leonard took another jumper and landed on the foot of Warriors center Zaza Pachulia.
He went down clutching his ankle and had to be removed from the game. The Warriors mounted the largest comeback in the conference finals in 15 years to steal Game 1 from the Spurs.
Leonard never returned to the series and the Spurs were easily brushed aside.
In some ways, Leonard’s Spurs tenure ended that day at Oracle Arena.
The 2014 NBA Finals MVP would play just nine more games for the Spurs, choosing to sit out most of the 2017-18 NBA season due to a disagreement with the team’s medical staff on how to treat a quad issue that also had bothered him the previous season.
Leonard demanded a trade out of San Antonio and the Toronto Raptors were the beneficiary of the Spurs’ misfortune, landing the All-Star forward and Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poetl and a 2019 first-round draft pick last July.
Almost eleven months after the Raptors traded for Leonard, they find themselves in their first NBA Finals in franchise history, with the Warriors waiting.
The last time Leonard was in the NBA Finals, he was palming a wrecking ball and throwing it through LeBron James and the Miami Heat’s dynasty, earning Finals MVP honors during a five-game bludgeoning of the Heat that jettisoned James back to Cleveland.
When he took the floor at Oracle Arena in 2017, he was prepared to try and do the same thing to the Warriors.
Leonard is calm under pressure, unfazed by big moments and was seemingly built in a lab to combat NBA superteams.
Now, two years after suffering a season-ending ankle injury that partially set in motion the chain of events that landed him in the North, Leonard will get his chance at ending another dynasty the same way he broke up The Heatles.
Durant, like James in 2014, has the option to become a free agent this summer and most expect him to opt out of his contract and leave the Bay just as James left South Beach. The two-time NBA Finals MVP also is nursing a strained calf and will not play in Game 1, and it’s unclear when he’ll see the floor in The Finals.
Leonard vs. the Warriors was inevitable, just as Thanos claimed to be while wreaking havoc on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He already ended this decade’s first dynasty and now he’ll look to obliterate possibly the greatest collection of talent in NBA history.
The greatness of the Milwaukee Bucks and the peskiness of the Houston Rockets aside, this is where we were always heading.
A superteam perhaps on its final run (with this iteration, at least), facing a dominant two-way player who can add another dynasty pelt to his collection.
In a decade defined by the superteams and the great players attempting to restore balance to the NBA, Leonard gets his first real crack at these Warriors starting Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.
There was no other way for this NBA decade to end.
Analysis: NBA Finals will decide a champion, and much more
Tim Reynolds | Associated Press
It all comes down to this.
It ALL comes down to this.
The next four, five, six or seven games of the NBA Finals between Golden State and Toronto will not only decide the 2019 championship, but how this series plays out is inevitably going to affect how free agency unfolds starting in a month or so.
It’ll affect Warriors star Kevin Durant and his annual stay-or-go decision. It’ll affect Raptors star Kawhi Leonard as he ponders his next move, or if he’ll be moving at all. Klay Thompson will be a free agent this summer. DeMarcus Cousins will be free this summer. Their thinking will inevitably be moved one way or another by this series; the decisions they’ll all make in the coming weeks will have a ripple effect on the rest of the NBA.
Durant made clear over the weekend that he’s tired of the incessant talk about his future.
“I know what I bring to the team,” Durant said, “but I also know that a lot of people on the outside don’t like to see us together.”
New York will be paying intense attention to everything that gets said, tweeted, Instagrammed and intimated. Brooklyn will be in the same boat. So will the Los Angeles Clippers, who think they’re on the cusp of building something really good, and the Los Angeles Lakers, who made the biggest signing of last summer by getting LeBron James and have done very little right since.
They will all be waiting to hear what Durant, Thompson, Leonard and Cousins decide.
And those are just the biggest fish — the whales, to use a term Miami President Pat Riley likes.
After that, there’s an additional 60 or so players who could be free agents this summer — some have opt-ins and might not be relocating — and who are coming off seasons when they averaged at least 10 points per game. Their teams next season will be affected on some level by who gets whom in the draft. How some teams pick in the draft will be influenced by what they’re hearing about free agency. And that hinges on this series.
So it’s not just a ripple effect.
The finals may create a tsunami.
“The latest I’ve heard from our basketball operations group is that, I believe, 40% of our players are going to be free agents this summer,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at All-Star weekend in February. “So it’s two sides of the coin. Some people could say, `Oh my God, look at all that player movement.’ On the other hand, that player movement could be very positive for a lot of teams.”
Maybe, maybe not.
If the Warriors win this series, as the oddsmakers in Las Vegas expect, it’ll be a third consecutive championship for Golden State — and some history. The Celtics, Lakers and Bulls are the only franchises to win three or more in a row. And out of that group, only the Celtics have won four in a row (eight, actually). Michael Jordan never did. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant never did.
That would be the obvious recruiting pitch the Warriors would make to Durant and Thompson: “Come back and try to win No. 4. Come back and try to do something that very few players have done and something no one has done in a half-century.” That lure would undoubtedly be strong.
But if they lose this series, it would seem much easier for either player to say it’s been a great run and it’s time to go play somewhere else.
If Durant stays, then the Knicks, Nets and Clippers would have to move on to Plan B for free agency.
Therefore, they probably should be rooting for the Raptors.
Durant is difficult to read because he uses social media to give cryptic hints that usually aren’t hints at all.
Leonard is impossible to read.
For all anyone knows, he already has decided to stay in Toronto or sign elsewhere. Or maybe he hasn’t even thought about the summer. Maybe he is as robotic as he tries to convey.
But the same theory applies: If Toronto wins this series, it’ll be harder for Leonard to leave. So for the teams that want him, they might want to root for the Warriors.
Let’s use the Knicks solely for example purposes. If they don’t get Durant or Leonard, then maybe Kyrie Irving crosses them off his list.
Maybe that would mean Kemba Walker climbs up their charts. Maybe that means Jordan decides to offer Walker the super-max of $221 million or so to stay in Charlotte.
And the ripples go on and on.
They won’t be little waves gently rolling onto the shores, either.
This will be a summer of change and a summer of major spending in the NBA. This series is going to decide much more than who gets rings. This series will likely decide who plays where for many years to come.
2019 NBA Finals schedule: Warriors vs Raptors dates, times, TV channel
Hurry up and wait.
That’s what the Warriors did, after completing a four-game Western Conference finals sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday, and now they’ll visit the Toronto Raptors to start the NBA Finals after a nine-day layoff.
The Raptors finally punched their ticket Saturday with a 100-94 Game 6 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. It will be the first NBA Finals appearance for the Raptors, and the first time the championship round will be played outside the United States.
It’s the Warriors’ fifth consecutive NBA Finals trip, but they won’t have home-court advantage in the series because the Raptors finished with one more regular-season win. So, Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 are set for Toronto, and Games 3, 4, 6 will be in Oakland, as a fitting send-off for Oracle Arena.
Here’s the schedule for the 2019 NBA Finals, with all games televised on ABC.
Game 1: Thursday, May 30, at Toronto, 6 p.m. PT Game 2: Sunday, June 2, at Toronto, 5 p.m. PT Game 3: Wednesday, June 5, at Golden State, 6 p.m. PT Game 4: Friday, June 7, at at Golden State, 6 p.m. PT Game 5*: Monday, June 10, at Toronto, 6 p.m. PT Game 6*: Thursday, June 13, at at Golden State, 6 p.m. PT Game 7*: Sunday, June 16, at Toronto, 5 p.m. PT *If necessary