Are the Rockets just going through the dog days of the NBA season or is a dramatic change on the horizon for them?
Mike D’Antoni entered this season with the label “lame duck coach” because he’s in the final year of his contract. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta said at the start of the season he hates that term and added that he doesn’t see D’Antoni “going anywhere.”
Fertitta added, “Mike appears, to me, to be the right guy for this team.”
After four straight losses and five in their last six, the Rockets (26-16) have fallen to sixth in the West. But while they’re not in any danger of missing the playoffs — they hold a 7 game lead over the 9th-seeded Spurs — they are in danger of once again being an over-hyped also-ran.
While James Harden is praised for being one of the game’s greatest scorers and most difficult to guard, there are growing criticisms about a perpetual green light that D’Antoni gives him that can lead to nights like his 1-for-17 effort (17!!!) from three-point range in a bad loss to the Thunder on Monday.
Afterward, while Harden went back out on the floor to practice shooting (as if more shots is the issue), D’Antoni’s only response to the Rocket tailspin was to shrug it off to a slump and leave it up to the players to lead themselves.
“We’re in a period if something goes bad, it all goes bad,” he said. “When it rains, it pours. And it’s pouring.”
Earlier in the losing streak, Harden referenced a need to just simply “work harder” and then went out to the court after Monday’s loss to perform for the cameras. The Rockets have a practice court in their arena, but for Harden, the effort to go out on the arena floor where the cameras would find him was the move.
The issue with the Rockets is they lack leadership. Their star player is a talent without accountability and without rules. Their offseason addition, Russell Westbook, is also a self-motivated star who sets a tone of hard work but doesn’t demand it. Both players use their teammates as outlets rather than as equal parts to a whole.
And their coach has, historically, left it up to the locker room to handle the details of discipline and motivation. So you can’t expect him, at 68, to suddenly change his style. General manager Daryl Morey reportedly was pushing to make a coaching change last offseason but Fertitta resisted. But has D’Antoni maxed out in Houston? It seems unlikely he will return after this season, what remains to be seen is if he finishes this season.
Shocking video surfaced early this week of former NBA player Delonte West, who was beaten in the middle of a road in Washington D.C. West’s former agent, Aaron Goodwin, confirmed to media outlets that it was West, now 36, who has endured a troubling decline since his NBA career ended in 2012.
And many in the basketball world are concerned about a very likable player who during his career opened up about dealing with bipolar disorder.
After playing in his final game of the 2011-12 season with the Dallas Mavericks, West bounced between G-League teams to China and even tried to sign with a team in Venezuela. Four years ago, however, there were great concerns about his well-being when he was seen in Houston looking disheveled and disoriented. He was also seen on a roadside in Maryland holding a sign. He insisted he wasn’t homeless. Over his 8 seasons in the NBA, West made over $16 million, according to Basketball-Reference.
The videos that surfaced on social media this week not only showed West, who stands 6’4” and his official weight was listed at 180 pounds, getting brutally beaten by an unidentified man, but also incoherent as he was in handcuffs and interviewed by a police officer.
Former NBA guard Jameer Nelson, who teamed with West at St. Joseph’s University, expressed great concern from his social media accounts. He confirmed he had been in touch with West “over the past several months” and was “just trying to be there for him as a friend.”
Nelson said “all we can do is pray for him and his family and hope that he seeks the proper help.”
In 2008, West left training camp while with the Cleveland Cavaliers to get treatment for what was reported as depression and a mood disorder. He returned to reveal he was bipolar and needed to get help. He was arrested the following year for speeding on a motorcycle in Maryland while carrying loaded pistols and a shotgun.
Phil Martelli, who coached Nelson and West at St. Joseph’s, also took to social media to react to West’s condition.
“We are reaching out to our basketball network to get the professional help Delonte needs,” Martelli said. “This is so very painful.”
Nelson then added something that you would think doesn’t need to be said, but in today’s world of social media consumption and reaction, it, sadly, does.
“Please be mindful, when you’re posting videos or pictures of somebody, you may think you’re helping, but you might be hurting them even more,” he said. “People have kids and their kids don’t deserve to be embarrassed.”
West has two children from his first marriage. The video of him being beaten on the road went viral on social media within minutes on Monday.
This time of year when I was a writer, it was fun to meet up with a group of NBA fans and yell like Oprah to a studio audience, “Who wants TRADE RUMORRRRRSSSS?”
With the Feb. 6 deadline approaching in a mere two weeks, the landscape has been relatively quiet. There was a move that went down recently that saw the Portland Trail Blazers move some salary out — Kent Bazemore ($19M) — in a five player deal with the Sacramento Kings that was headlined by veteran Trevor Ariza going to the Blazers. Two first round picks were reportedly headed to Sacramento.
The trade, according to ESPN, saved the Blazers in luxury tax and also created a $7.2 million trade exception that doesn’t expire until next year.
This type of deal hardly moves anyone. Ariza could be helpful, but at this point in his career he’s a reserve veteran. Portland, who were conference finalists last year, is still wallowing under .500 and two games out of a playoff spot in the West.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of intrigue following the Lakers and just how aggressive they will be before the deadline. One of the latest rumors involve the Lakers’ interest in acquiring Derrick Rose (18.4 ppg), who has transformed his career in Detroit into that of an instant offense scorer off the bench.
The 76ers, who are desperate for scoring off the bench, are also reportedly interested in Rose. But they are also, according to The Athletic, looking into bringing back Robert Covington, who spent five seasons in Philly and developed into a reliable 3&D player before he was sent to Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade. Covington, who has two years left on his contract, would seamlessly fit back into the mix under Brett Brown.
There was some talk about the Pelicans potentially moving on from Jrue Holiday or even JJ Redick, but with the return of Zion Williamson this week and the Pels recent surge to move 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, word is GM David Griffin prefers to keep the vets around. New Orleans has reason to think, with the emergence of Brandon Ingram, it can stay in the hunt and, if Zion has the impact many expected him to have as a pro, perhaps they can make a run for that 8th seed?
Here’s a name you might not expect to see in the rumor mill: LaMarcus Aldridge. According to the San Antonio Express-News, while Aldridge isn’t on the trading block, he could be moved for the right offer. One team to watch is the Miami Heat, who are looking to find another all-star veteran to pair with Butler.
Last but not least, the rumors involving Andre Drummond, which included reported interest from the Hawks and Knicks, has subsided. The Knicks are listening to offers for the vets on their roster who signed one-year deals, but the prevailing belief is that Marcus Morris — who has repeatedly said he prefers to stay with the Knicks — will not be moved.