March 3, 2021 | 9:47 am EST Update
Several sources within the Houston organization firmly believe Morey made a preemptive decision, departing in large part because he anticipated Harden would want out, beginning a rebuilding period for the Rockets. According to sources, Morey had expressed concern inside the bubble about not being able to “keep James happy,” due to a lack of picks to use as trade fodder to make offseason roster upgrades.
Harden’s happiness, or lack thereof, was Stone’s problem after the longtime Rockets front office executive was promoted to replace Morey. But just getting Harden to communicate with him was difficult for Stone and the Houston front office, a factor that delayed the coaching search that ultimately ended with the hiring of Silas, a longtime NBA assistant who was a finalist when Houston hired D’Antoni four years earlier. By early November, the Rockets had privately come to terms with the fact that the Harden-Westbrook pairing fizzled, as the friends no longer wanted to play together. That was problematic, given the steep price the Rockets paid in the Westbrook trade the previous summer, but Houston could stomach searching for a Westbrook trade.
Weeks before camp opened, a high-ranking Rockets source told ESPN that the team was “willing to get uncomfortable,” stressing that the front office felt no urgency to trade Harden and Westbrook before the start of the season despite the stars’ unhappiness, vowing not to be pressured into dealing them for pennies on the dollar.
After the game, crew chief Marc Davis told a pool reporter that Booker’s first technical was for “continuous complaining” and the second was for “directing profane language at a game official.” Suns forward Jae Crowder said he tried to get between Booker and the referees to deescalate the tense situation but was too late. “Devin was disputing his first technical,” Crowder said. “He didn’t like the first technical that was given to him and he voiced his opinion about it. The second ref heard him voice his opinion and decided to give him another one.”
“I think Jae Crowder said it best: We got better tonight,” said Suns coach Monty Williams after the game. “You gain confidence when a guy like Book doesn’t play or gets tossed and you’re able to pull a game out on the road at the end of a trip. That’s a recipe for mailing it in, and this group has shown a lot of resiliency. But that was a big-time character win, and we got better. “I think we played good tonight, but we probably got more confidence that we can pull a game out without Devin or Chris [Paul] saving the day.”
LeBron James was asked about dealing with the stretch of recent games. “Just trying to stay in the moment. For me just standing in the moment, keeping my guys motivated, keeping them upbeat,” the four-time NBA champion said. “You could definitely tell that some of our guys are just feeling the midst of the long season that we had last year with the bubble and coming right back on to the season this year. A lot of guys looking forward to the break so it’ll be beneficial to our guys.”
But don’t diminish Turner based on one historically challenging matchup. He should still be a frontrunner for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, if not the favorite to win the award over the likes of Embiid, Rudy Gobert and others, at least based on his body of work so far this season. Here’s why: For one, Turner leads the league in blocks at 3.4 per game, and it isn’t particularly close. Gobert came into the Philly game second in that category, 11 blocks behind. Of course, leading the league in blocks isn’t necessarily the litmus test; in 2018-19, Turner led the league in blocks and didn’t get a sniff of the award. It’s why he knew that if he wanted to bolster his candidacy, he needed to add some subtle elements to his defensive game.
No player contests more shots per game within six feet of the basket than Turner (10.5) and he allows a minus-16.2 percent difference in field goal percentage on these attempts. He’s not just blocking shots; he’s altering shots, making plays with his quick feet and hands and giving the Pacers one of the top — if not the top — rim protectors in the game. “It’s funny, his rookie year, he was amazing; I got to see him on the USA Select Team and thought he was the best player on the whole team. He was unbelievable,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s turned out to be a different kind of player than I thought he would be.