Marc Stein: More from the pregame media sessions in Houston: Rockets GM Daryl Morey said “a lot” of the team’s struggles to open the season are “on me” and Coach Mike D’Antoni acknowledged that management is “exploring all options” in the wake of a 4-7 start
Jenny Dial Creech: Morey said players have come up to him and D’Antoni and said ‘I need to play better.’ #Rockets
With the Rockets slumping, with losses in seven of nine games, but also with a record that is the fourth-best in the NBA, they said they have to maintain a mix of urgency and confidence. "That's what we're fighting with right now," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We're fighting as coaches, is what we're doing good enough? Is it tired legs, injuries and we need to hang in there, or do we need to change something? It's a fine balance. I can't say a coach always knows. I can tell you afterwards. We'll try to play with a swagger and confidence."
"We know we have the ability and the talent in the group we have (healthy) to win," forward Ryan Anderson said. "We just need to come together and battle harder, play harder. I want to look myself in the mirror regardless of how many looks I get, if shots fall or not, I want to play harder. We just have to clear our heads and put all this, this little stretch, behind us. We know we can play so much better."
Mark Berman: Pat Beverley: "That's BS. What happened tonight was BS....We have to play better if we're talking about winning championships." #Rockets pic.twitter.com/7oTqDO4lTA
Houston Rockets management repeatedly pushed for Clint Capela to get more playing time at the expense of Dwight Howard last season, sources told ESPN, adding to the disharmony that played a prominent role in the team's disappointing 2015-16 campaign.
Former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff resisted complying with the wishes of general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander regarding a drastic reduction in Howard's playing time. Team sources said Alexander never participated in the meetings with Morey and Bickerstaff but fully supported the general manager's plan to prioritize Capela's development.
Sources said Howard learned of management's attempts to cut his minutes in midseason and shared a mutual interest with the Rockets front office to move him before the trade deadline. The Rockets shopped Howard, according to sources, but no deal came close to materializing largely due to Houston's ambitious asking price: an immediate major contributor and either a promising developmental project or future first-round pick.
Brewer also was asked about the relationship between Harden and Dwight Howard. “It wasn’t as bad as people say it was,” said Brewer. “Superstars are going to have their disagreements and different things, but it was just a bad year. I’m not going to say it was either one of their faults. It wasn’t those guys not getting along. It was all of us. None of us played our best basketball and we got knocked out of the first round.”
Corey Brewer was on ESPN Face to Face with Hannah Storm on Thursday, and he spoke about the Rockets hiring of Mike D’Antoni. “He’s going to bring a lot of energy,” said Brewer of Houston’s new coach. “That’s what we need. We need some energy back here in Houston. It was a bad year this year. Expectations were high and we ended up playing really bad but I think Coach D’Antoni is going to come in and change all that.”
Calvin Watkins: Jason Terry said there was too much turmoil and he didn't do a better job of handling it. @Sirius XM NBA
That likely will be only the start. Morey disputed the depiction of the Rockets' chemistry problems, saying that they were no greater than is typical when teams play badly and that the chemistry was no worse this season than it was good with the same players last season. But anyone privy to all those team meetings could describe dysfunction that will have to be addressed. Next season's coach will have to demand or inspire that kind of change and likely will have to convince Morey, Rockets owner Leslie Alexander and CEO Tad Brown that he can turn the Rockets into a team built to win in the postseason.
But he disputed the notion that he does not value chemistry or that it was as much of an issue this season as many, including some of his players, have said. "I think it's hugely important," Morey said. "I don't remember articles about how our chemistry was great last year. I don't remember articles last year that said how great our guys were together. That's a label people throw on a team when it's not going well. The reality is we didn't have enough guys playing together and playing well. Last year, we had a lot of guys playing well and playing together. It's the same group of guys. They had good chemistry. They just didn't play well.
"It's the convenient thing to say the chemistry is bad. We lost games. Everybody is trying to figure out why we lost games. The reality is our defense was a lot worse. That was guys not playing as well as we needed them to play."
It's no big surprise since this has often been a season of dysfunction. It starts with Harden and Howard, the team's two stars. They have tried to be friends -- Harden picked up Howard's tab for dinner in New York on his birthday. During dinner in Phoenix at the All-Star break, the two discussed their on-court issues.
Howard feels he's a star and should be respected in the locker room. Howard, known to be playful with media members, was distant over the last two months of the regular season. He was largely frozen out of the offense despite coaches and players saying he needs the ball.
Mark Berman: Jason Terry asked why James Harden and Dwight Howard didn't click this year: "Could be a contrast in styles. I think those two have to be put in a system where they have to learn to play together. I just think they're two different styles. They just couldn't co-exist to have success this year. It worked last year, but this year it was just different for some reason."
Marc Stein: As for Dwight Howard, don't forget that it's his option -- not the team's -- whether he stays or goes this summer and Howard does love the city of Houston. But the overwhelming expectation around the league is that Dwight will bypass his $23.3 million option for next season and opt for free agency in July. As one team source told our own Calvin Watkins this week, Howard's relationship with James Harden is "cordially bad." Meaning that the players aren't openly in battle but the disconnect between them is an undeniable and pressing issue.
Howard is frustrated because he believes Harden doesn't respect him enough. Howard texts former teammates asking what can be done to solve the problems. That same poor dynamic between Harden and Howard, and the inconsistent play of others has hurt Bickerstaff, who took over 11 games into the season when Alexander fired McHale. "The team was not responding to Kevin," Morey said at the time of the firing. "There is no time in the West."
As the Rockets rushed from the Oracle Arena visitor's locker room and a long, frustrating season, James Harden looked to the off-season pledging to return a better player. "Just a tough year. Tough year," Harden said. "I think every player, every great player goes through it. It's an opportunity to get better. I'll come back as a better basketball player. "It was a frustrating year. A lot of ups. A lot of downs. I have to be better next year."
Maybe his silence said everything, but Howard too was truthful about the chemistry. “It didn’t go the way we wanted to go,” the 30-year-old center said. “We had a lot of ups and downs and I’m sure all of us are going to take some time to reflect on what we can do to better ourselves.”
Adrian Wojnarowski: JB Bickerstaff had impossible job: Interim where two stars hated each other -- and brought it onto court. He can be a good NBA head coach.
“That’s going to happen,” Terry said regarding distractions. “I’ve been around this thing a long time. You will be faced with all types of adversities and how you come through those is a sign of the type of team you have. Our team was just not strong enough mentally to get through those adversities and learn. A lesson for [Harden] as a star of a team, you have to deal with certain issues and still be able to be mentally tough to bring your level of play up with your team and get them to where you want them to go. It happens.”
October 24, 2020 | 6:02 am EDT Update
Marks: The players. Agents are bracing for the possibility of up to 40% of the escrow being withheld from players, sources told ESPN. That money would offset losses incurred with a lack of revenue coming in from home games. And from a health standpoint, 22 teams just endured a grueling stretch of basketball, both physically and mentally. I would think that players who finished the playoffs in September or October will not be happy that training camp is now weeks instead of months away.
NBA on ESPN: John Wall working out with Nets players Kyrie Irving, Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan (via graydientvisuals/Instagram, klutchsports/Instagram)
One name to keep an eye on with the Knicks in the second round? BYU power forward/center Yoeli Childs. The Knicks interviewed Childs recently, per SNY sources, and those sources said Childs has been making a strong impression during interviews with teams who have picks in the early/mid second round. The Knicks have the 38th pick in the second round. The club has interviewed dozens of players, so the fact that they interviewed Childs shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. But it does confirm that the club has a level of interest in the 6-8, 255-pound big man.
Former Houston Rockets star Hakeem told CNBC that it’s always been Jordan for him, and apparently, his opinion won’t change when it comes to this debate on who is the most superior player he ever faced. “When people start comparing him with Jordan, then that’s not a fair comparison. Jordan was a far more superior player in a very tough league, and he was very creative. That’s not taking away anything from LeBron because he is a great player, but it is not a fair comparison because Jordan is a far superior player.” Hakeem Olajuwon, via CNBC
RW: Do you think the title with the Lakers puts LeBron over the top in the G.O.A.T. debate? Mike Penberthy: I don’t know if it’s possible to compare eras. As a player, the NBA calls the game differently from a referee standpoint and the gameplay is played differently in all the eras. What rules are you comparing these guys in? I think [Michael] Jordan was the greatest in his era. I think Magic [Johnson] and [Larry] Bird were the best in their era. I think Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], who doesn’t get any love, I’ve always thought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the greatest basketball player to ever walk the earth because of what he did from the time he was 15 until the time he was 40.
RW: You won a championship playing with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and now you’ve coached LeBron and Anthony Davis to a title. What are the differences in those Lakers superstar duos? Mike Penberthy: All four of them are different players. Shaq is a true center. A.D. is a freak hybrid. LeBron is one of the most dominant forces in transition and with his basketball I.Q. and ability to pass, dribble and make big shots. And then Kobe was one of the greatest scorers and greatest talents in NBA history, so all of them were different in their own ways. Shaq had the ability to make other people better. LeBron made other people better. A.D. and Kobe were more of the assassins of the group. They’re looking to score and looking to get the ball. Not that they couldn’t make other people better, but they were more valuable to the team scoring.
Mike Penberthy: The differences are really that they were all different players, but here’s the unique thing that’s similar. Shaq and Kobe were better when they played together with each in pick-and-rolls and in post-ups and kick-outs. LeBron and A.D. got better when they played together. When they shared the ball and utilized each other’s strengths. They’re much better together than they were apart individually. I think Shaq and Kobe came together to bring home championships and I think it’s the same for LeBron and A.D.