The Wandering Beard

As Thunder GM Sam Presti was watching his former sixth man run circles around the Pistons, I suspect he had a moment of recoil. At least he should have.

Keep in mind that as the Lakers struggle to 0-10 (including preseason) much like the Heat struggled a couple of years ago, NBA analysts around the country emphasize that a team needs time to “gel”. And while I don’t doubt the acumen or insider expertise of any of these former players and coaches, I did just watch James Harden turn into “Big Game” James and drop a LeBron James like stat line without ever having played with any of the current Rockets.

James Harden came off the bench last year and regularly sparked the Thunder to victories. He was a burst of energy that the other team rarely saw coming, and often had no answer for. Standing 6’5” and 230lbs, Harden has prototypical size for his position and is one of the best athletes in the NBA. If he had LeBron’s size I could make a case for him possibly growing into the best in the game. He drives the ball with raw power and swift feet. He shoots the ball with a silky release and a confident follow-through. He’s already one of the most intelligent players with the ball in his hands. And he is COLD BLOODED.

Now, none of this is news to Sam Presti. So why get rid of him? Money, money, money. He saw Harden was in line for the type of deal he got from Houston and simply could not fit that into the Thunder’s current budget. The key word there being “current”. Durant, Westbrook and Perkins are all locked up to big deals and Harden’s deal would have meant another $30 mil in luxury tax.

I get that, but here’s the thing: Would you rather have Westbrook or Harden signed to a max deal?

Russell Westbrook is one of the best talents in the NBA and there is absolutely no disputing that. But he is a little behind the curve from the neck up. He fires wild, wayward passes; often turning the ball over more than 7 or 8 times in a game. Most possessions that begin with the ball in his hands end that way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him dribble the ball up, then just pull up from 15 feet. That’s great when you make 70% of them, but that seems to be happening less and less. Meanwhile, the best scorer in the game goes possession after possession without touching the rock. My biggest problem with him is he clearly thinks he’s a better player than Durant. That’s not a strategy conducive to winning.

Presti could have, and in my opinion should have dumped Westbrook on a team for a good young point guard who is years away from a big payday or a veteran who can be an extension of Scott Brooks on the floor. Even Harden himself would have been an excellent solution at point guard.

But c’est la vie, Presti decided to hold on to one of the more volatile personalities in the NBA and dumped his 23-year-old Sixth Man of the Year.

My second problem here is the haul he got for Harden. Presti brings in Kevin Martin, who was a good scorer in Houston, but who else was going to score for them? Martin is a solid talent, moves off the ball well and has a good, albeit funky-looking jumper, but he has been apathetic to coaching in the past.

My big problem is after that they landed Jeremy Lamb and three draft picks. Picking in the NBA draft can truly be a lottery experience. The Thunder have drafted well, yes, but there is also a lot of luck involved in that. They could have easily ended up with Greg Oden, OJ Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet (who is ironically on the team this year) in the drafts that netted them Durant, Westbrook and Harden.

Obviously, only Presti knows what other offers were out there, but I can’t believe he got all he could for a man on the verge of becoming one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. If anyone had to go, Westbrook should have been the guy here. Only time will tell of course, but I seriously doubt any of the other teams in the West are sad to see Durant and Harden split up. They could have been a new generation Jordan-Pippen.

I’m afraid in the next five years Durant will have to endure some serious frustration with Westbrook and that this could end in tragedy for OKC.

Harden Trade Bad For NBA

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s decision to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Late last night — during the middle of a tough loss by the Oklahoma Sooners that was distracting most of the state — the Thunder traded Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick that belonged to Charlotte.

One of the draft picks is Toronto’s from the Kyle Lowry deal and the other comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Jordan Hill deal last season.

Some fans will debate whether it was worth it for Harden to fight for the extra $5.5 million he will get from Houston, but I don’t think fans would be willing to leave money on the table when they negotiate their next contract.

On top of that, Oklahoma City was unable to offer Harden the fifth-year that Houston can because of the new collective bargaining agreement. According to that document, teams can only sign one player to a five-year deal, the rest of the roster can only accept a contract for a maximum of four years.

While it may seem blasphemous to say right now, there’s a strong possibility that Martin will provide more reliable outside shooting than Harden provided and that Lamb could develop into a great compliment to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The problem with playing that “what if” game is the fact Harden was already a great compliment to their core group of players and he was their best three-point shooter last season.

Oklahoma City might also win the “lottery” with one of the two draft picks they secured in this trade. If they can get a top-five pick in the draft next June then Sam Presti will once again look like a genius.

So while there is hope for how this deal could play out in the future, what really stings is the fact the Thunder made a business decision instead of a personnel one when they were poised to start a season where they challenged for an NBA Championship.

When Oklahoma City dealt Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins a couple seasons back it stunned the fans and the players left on their roster. However, that was clearly a move made to give a young roster more experience and to toughen up their bigs. But trading Harden to Houston? That amounts to the Oklahoma City not having the kind of money needed to pay him $five million over five seasons due to worries about luxury tax payments. That’s a scary message for a small-market team to be sending to its players and fans.

What frustrates fans of the team is that Oklahoma City could have played out this season without any real penalty. Before this trade went down they were almost guaranteed a spot in the Western Conference Finals and many pundits had them playing in the NBA Finals.

Now? They still have a chance, but the odds aren’t nearly as good.

If Oklahoma City rode out this season they could have at least matched any offer that Harden received next summer and then traded him. So, they would have still gotten some pieces back and they would have been able to play out this season competing for an NBA Championship.

Last season the NBA played 66 games so that the league would have a competitive playing field. The idea was that bigger markets like Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and Miami would no longer be able to dictate where the star players went.

So much for that utopian idea.

Heading into this season, Los Angeles alone is home to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Blake Griffen.

Meanwhile, Miami boasts heir own big three and Boston has three future Hall-of-Famers in Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

It’s a shame the rich continue to get richer while small-market teams will continue to struggle to compete.

Even worse, it stinks that Oklahoma City cashed in their chips before even giving this season a chance to unfold.

Toronto Steals Lowry From Houston

It took Bryan Colangelo less than 24 hours to regroup from losing Steve Nash.

In a move that won’t have the same flash or sizzle of adding Nash, Colangelo made a bold move by stealing Kyle Lowry from the Houston Rockets for a heavily protected first round pick.

It may not be the sexy move, but it was probably a better move than adding Nash.

Lowry finished last season averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 assist and 4.5 rebounds. Keep in mind for a stretch of the season Lowry flirted with 20 points and 10 assists per game. During the month of January he averaged 15.0 points, 7.1 assists and 6.7 rebounds while playing gritty defense.

It’s not like Lowry is the only possible target for Colangelo. There was talk leading up to the NBA Draft that Andre Igoudala and Rudy Gay might be headed to Toronto. While new management in Memphis has quieted the rumours of Gay being dealt, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Igoudala dealt this summer.

Igoudala only averaged 12.9 points and 5.7 rebounds while having a player efficiency of 13.77. Hardly the stuff to excite fans in Toronto. But, due to the playing style of Doug Collins, the Sixers’ leading scorer last season was sixth man Lou Williams.

There are a lot of people in the NBA who feel that if Igoudala was playing in a system where he was featured it would allow him to average close to 18 points like he averaged a couple seasons back.

Plus, a huge bonus for Toronto is that Igoudala is a small forward known for being a gritty defender.

Here’s to hoping that Philly would be willing to take on some young pieces like Ed Davis or DeMar DeRozan while taking some expiring contracts like Linas Kleiza or Jose Calderon in the process.

While none of these moves have the luster of inking Nash trading for a valuable piece or two may turn out better.

Orlando Took Dwight Howard For Granted

The Dwight Howard saga appears nearing an end. The Magic franchise appears ready to part ways with their superstar center and are exploring their trade options to get some type of value in return for him. That was always something Orlando was determined to do, but the hope of having Howard sign an extension has waned.

The reports this weekend appear to have put a nail in that coffin. A divorce seems inevitable.

Why did this have to happen? What went so wrong in Orlando for Howard that he had to engineer his exit in such an embittered, secretive and senseless way? What brought the frustration level with the franchise so high that this was the way Howard had to go?

These are complex questions that do not have easy answers. Far from them.

In each of Howard’s statements he professes a love for the city of Orlando and a request fans stay patient with him and believe in him. But at the same time, he has avoided the truth that seems undeniable at this point: he does not want to play in Orlando anymore. His relationship with the Magic franchise has soured beyond the point of repair and he is trying (emphasis on trying) to secure an exit while maximizing his earning potential.

It has created an ugly divorce with the fans stuck in the middle.

Those same fans who have followed Dwight Howard the past eight years know this is not who Dwight Howard is. That is why hope that he would ultimately re-sign in Orlando remained — and why some fans I have talked to still believe Howard will stay if the team can gather the right pieces (bless those optimists, seriously).

Howard is a fun-loving, smiling center who plays hard and works hard. There is not a single reason to hate Dwight Howard the player. This is why fans attached to him and these Magic teams so much, creating a buzz around the team that was felt only once before in the franchise history (with a similarly gregarious center).

The Dwight Howard the Magic and Magic fans saw in 2012 did not seem to enjoy the game as much. He was serious and guarded, with every word carefully measured for some ulterior motive. Not the Howard that Magic fans grew to love in seven years.

This marriage did not seem destined for divorce. Not after the 2009 Finals trip. Not even after the Magic fell in the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. The fate may have been sealed in December 2010 when the Magic boxed themselves in with two horrific trades.

And then with the landscape completely changed from one of hope and promise to one of mediocrity in the matter of a year and a half, the Magic began to ask the question of Howard — how long do you want to commit to this franchise? It is easy to see from that lens why you might hesitate to say yes and exert your leverage and power a little bit more.

Getting up to 2009 was a painstaking process of clearing some bad contracts — most notably, Steve Francis and Grant Hill’s expiring deal — and creating an atmosphere where the team could succeed. Stan Van Gundy pulled the right strings in getting Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu to play their best basketball surrounding Howard.

But after 2009, Orlando succumbed to short-sighted moves to fling the window open, hoping it would not come crashing down on the franchise.

A lot of the moves made in the summer of 2009 proved to be the correct ones for the 2010 season alone. Vince Carter replaced Turkoglu’s production (although he did not improve on it) and Orlando had a deep and versatile bench to call on for the Playoffs.

But there was one underlying assumption in how that summer-long rebuild was executed — Dwight Howard would fix everything.

It is a testament both to Van Gundy’s schemes and Howard’s excellence that the 2010 team tied for the top defensive rating in the league. After all, no one considers Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter or Rashard Lewis elite perimeter defenders. Howard’s shadow cast all over the paint and he put together impressive defensive performances all by himself.

So when Otis Smith saw the wheels coming off his team in December 2010, this assumption still rested in the back of his mind. A quick fix could work because Dwight Howard can fix a whole bunch of holes.

And for a good chunk of the 2011 season, he did. Howard posted a career-best 26.0 PER and 7.7 defensive win shares. He was an absolute monster and carried his team to become third in the league in defensive rating. This was a team, mind you, that featured Nelson, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu as defenders in front of Howard.

The chance for a title was slipping though. Orlando struggled when teams could single cover Howard and no one else on the perimeter seemed able to step up in a six-game, first-round exit to the Hawks.

If you look at things through this prism, it is easy to see why Howard was frustrated by his waning voice within the franchise and his lack of help on it. Howard had to do everything. And moves and transactions were seemingly made with the assumption that Dwight Howard can make everything work on his own. He is so gifted and talented that, for a long time, he did make it all work by himself.

But that is not how he is going to win championships. That is not how you build a championship team.

And so, with his ability to exercise his leverage at its maximum, Howard asked out. Orlando had run out of time to build him a championship team and boxed itself in, unable to get him help. The Magic as a franchise, simply took Howard’s good nature and talent for granted, souring him away from the team’s plans.

This does not in any way excuse the bungled way Howard has handled his exit. It has been ugly and confusing. A fan base that appreciates and supports a superstar the way Orlando did with Howard deserves a straight answer from the player himself — the December 2011 press conference he held would have been fine if he let it stay at that. They certainly do not deserve the winding road and drama the franchise has endured.

The way Howard continually professes his love for Orlando makes you believe things really could have worked out if the Magic remained perpetual contenders and he had no reason to be discontent. But it is clear from the way things were run, Howard had plenty of reasons to be off put by the Magic’s next attempt to placate him.

It all started with the franchise and its personnel not living up to its potential and bungling move after move at a time when it could not. Howard played the good teammate and did everything he could. The problem was, too many mistakes around him were made. It seems like it made him feel like he was taken for granted and ignored.

Howard was no longer a good soldier. He wanted a larger say if he was going to expend the effort and energy to (literally) carry a team through the postseason. Orlando did not give it to him.

And so here we are, ready to divorce much more bitterly than it had to be. A relationship broken that did not have to be.

Lowry Demands A Trade If Dragic Returns

Kyle Lowry, who opened the lockout driven season as the starting point guard for the Houston Rockets, is now ready to pack his bags if things are not addressed.

Lowry, who was discussed as a potential All-Star game reserve, saw everything crumble after a dangerous bacterial infection took over his body. Lowry only played 47 games this season, while backup point guard Goran Dragic wasted no time picking up the slack.

As you can imagine the situation does not favor Lowry in the slightest. While the infection was out of his control, it essentially took him out of the loop. Lowry went from the future, to the past, after unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic outplayed Lowry during his absence.

The Rockets have made it clear that Dragic will be retained even though he is expected to be approached by multiple teams who are willing to pay him a large salary. If the Rockets do stay loyal to their words, then Dragic will be paid a salary that will demand him to be the starter.

If this sounds eerily familiar, then you’re starting to make the connection. The carousel of point guards have been rotating now for a few years. Dragic is now taking Lowry’s spot, while Lowry did the same to former guard Aaron Brooks. Lowry has clearly seen the trend catch up to him, and isn’t willing to sit on his hands and watch it play out.

“We’re both capable starters,” Lowry told the Houston Chronicle. “We both want it. It’s going to have to be a situation where they make a decision on one of us.”

Lowry continued to reiterate his dilemma, making it very clear that the assurance he needs will be met, or his services may no longer be worthy to the Rockets.

“It has nothing to do with Goran,” Lowry admitted. “I’m not happy with the way (the) coaches handled things. If management wants to do something to keep Goran, I think I’ll have to be moved.”

With that quote comes act two of this story. The act in which Lowry calls out his coach, while his coach surprisingly raises his eyebrows after the comment is relayed to him.

“If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved,” Lowry said.

McHale replied with what you would expect from a head coach.

“That’s very surprising,” McHale said. “I didn’t think we had too much of a problem coexisting this year. Everybody has a little beef every once in a while. I didn’t feel like (there were problems). He apparently did.”

The beef with McHale really hit the boiling point in a game against the Denver Nuggets, when Lowry and McHale shared some words. Lowry showed his anger on the court, but later downplayed the situation as the heat of the moment, took over emotions. Now Lowry is using that scenario to further emphasize his discomfort with coach McHale.

Lowry, who clearly feels insecure with his position on the team, did leave a slight window open for adjustments. But his demands are steep, and the Rockets are not leaning towards those changes.

While McHale struggled to get this team into the playoffs as the season came to a close, he also joined the team in a shortened NBA season, with virtually no training camp. The Rockets would shock most people if they let McHale go after one incomplete season.

General manager Daryl Morey remains upbeat about the situation, and doesn’t believe it needs to end in this manner.

“I think Kyle and coach McHale are both winners and both competitive guys,” Morey said. “I don’t anticipate any issues going forward.”

Lowry and Dragic are both capable starters, and splitting time for either is really not an option. Dragic has made it clear if he signs with the Rockets, he wants starting minutes. Lowry has now made it clear that he wants the same, along with another coach in the mix.

Honestly, Lowry packing his bags seems like a very realistic scenario now.

While some of us know that these two players make a great duo on the court, or when used interchangeably, we also know that both players believe they are ready to run a basketball team. Splitting time isn’t the same as running the show. Lowry may look selfish right now, but he is speaking freely. He is looking out for his own good. He sees that his progression as a point guard is stalling. The Rockets may not be in the position to kick start that stall, when they have another point guard they will be committing a large salary to.

The Rockets have some major decision to iron out, and Kyle Lowry will be right in the heart of it all.

Toronto’s Offseason Starting To Take Shape

It has been an intriguing offseason thus far for the Toronto Raptors, that is to be sure. They haven’t even done anything yet and there has already been plenty of chatter surrounding the team and potential free agent signings since the day the season ended. Whether these rumours are based in truth or conjecture remains to be seen. Regardless of the eventual results, people are talking about the Raptors and fans are getting excited.

I’m not one to get caught up in rumours, but these rumours seem to have some weight to them and all of them could change the course of the Raptors hopes for next season as well as the long-term status of GM Bryan Colangelo, who has one year remaining on his contract.

First came the Steve Nash rumours. Now Steve Nash rumours are nothing new around these parts. He’s Canada’s greatest basketball talent ever and would look fantastic playing for Canada’s only basketball team. Over the years Toronto has heard lots about Nash coming to town, but there wasn’t really any way to get a deal like that done. But now the “Nash to Toronto” rumours have a certain weight to them.

He’s long been rumoured to be leaving the Phoenix Suns after this year and his recent appointment as President and General Manager of Canada’s Mens National Team would seem to indicate he wouldn’t mind spending more time closer to his homeland.

A Steve Nash arrival in Toronto would mean improved play on the offensive end and a whole lot of jerseys being sold at the ACC.

Nash would fit in swimmingly here in Toronto, despite the fact Jose Calderon already occupies the starting point guard spot. Calderon has been quite willing and ready to share time whenever necessary and the depth at point guard could give the Raptors a leg up on competition in the Atlantic division. Calderon seems better suited to the backup role anyway and could become valuable trade bait down the road with a large expiring contract.

The Nash rumours also have weight as his former Canadian National team coach, Jay Triano, is employed by the Raptors and Bryan Colangelo, the GM that drafted and then re-acquired Nash in Phoenix is currently the Raptors President and GM.

Nash has a knack for bringing the very best out of his teammates. Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudamire, Channing Frye, Jason Richardson all owe much of their success (and large pay cheques) to the point guard that gave them the ball.

Nash has always put himself second and his team first. His teammates were the beneficiaries on and off the court. How much could a point guard like Nash improve Andrea Bargnani’s game? or DeMar DeRozan’s? Makes you wonder.

Nash makes good players great. He brings the best out of his teammates and could certainly benefit some of the underachieving Raptor players.

Nash would therefore seem to be a perfect fit in Toronto. Unless, of course Jeremy Lin is. Lin is a restricted free agent and there are now reports from a host of sources claiming the Raptors will be very much in the mix for his services, should the Knicks decide to let him go.

Lin is much younger than Nash, could be cheaper and may fit better into the core that is developing in Toronto.

Jeremy Lin is a rumoured Raptor target this offseason. His acquisition could be the spark this young Raptor team needs.

He is a restricted free agent, so how much stalk can we put into these Lin to Toronto rumours? It is very possible that the Knicks get out-priced for his services. Lin is not a player that has been around long and therefore may not have earned the lucrative deal he seeks in the eyes of NBA GM’s. His stats are good, but the sample size is small, and he was never really able to mesh with franchise player Carmelo Anthony suggesting he may need to be a number one option.

Lin, who missed the Knicks’ run to the playoffs, could be the odd man out in New York, making him very much available to Toronto. A move for Lin would be very reminiscent of Colangelo’s other signing of a young point guard that changed his Phoenix Suns back in 2004. That, of course being, Steve Nash.

Lin has shown he can be a game changer, a superstar, a go-to guy. At the point guard position that is simply something the Raptors have never had.

It is clear that Lin’s stats are a small sample size and his median numbers are not nearly as good as his 2011/12 stats, but he could be worth the risk.

He is explosive and can certainly shoot the ball with confidence. He can drive the net and get his teammates involved in the offense. His defensive ability is weak but his deficiencies could be fit into Dwane Casey’s system. If Calderon worked out, Lin likely could too.

He would also become a big fan favourite here in Toronto, a city with a large Asian fan base. It could be a big marketing opportunity that the new owners at Rogers and Bell, simply cannot pass up.

Still, the odds of landing Lin rest in the hands of Glen Grunwald and the New York Knicks and what they are attempting to do this offseason. The Knicks maintain the right to match any offers the young point guard gets, meaning the Raptors will likely have to overpay to get him.

Lin presents an interesting option for the Raptors, but one that they ultimately don’t have complete control over.

Then there are the murmurs about Nicolas Batum. Now, none of these rumours are anything but pure and utter speculation, but he would fit very nicely into the Raptors lineup. A small forward with that kind of ability has alluded the Raptors since the days of Tracy McGrady. Batum would instantly become one of the best small forwards the franchise has ever seen. A great fit for the short and long-term. Plus his European background would be a plus in the locker room. He certainly won’t be cheap and the Blazers are very unlikely to let him go for nothing. Expect the Blazers to match everything and anything for Batum and then work out a trade with a team if they have to.

If the Raptors are serious about acquiring Batum, which they should be in my opinion, then they are going to have to put together a trade package that will make it happen. That is much more difficult than just signing a player, but if anyone knows how to work out a complicated off-season trade it’s Colangelo.

So despite the fact the Playoffs are going on without the Raptors, there is plenty for a fan to sit and ponder. This summer will be another chapter in the remaking of this Raptors team and it is exciting to imagine the possibilities. So far three of the most solid offseason rumours would offer the Raptors definite upgrades in talent at two key positions. All three rumoured acquisitions are big name players that would raise the talent level and profile of basketball in Toronto.

Like most Raptor fans, I can’t wait to see what happens on July first. Judging from the early offseason rumours, it is likely to be one of the more exciting ones yet.

Rockets Likely To Target Gasol This Summer

It was the “veto” that sent shockwaves of anger across the association. A blockbuster trade that would have sent Pau Gasol to the Houston Rockets was axed by Commissioner David Stern, due to “basketball reasons.”

The deal would have shipped Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, and Goran Dragic to the Hornets, and in return the Rockets would have received Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers. It was safe to assume that the Gasol acquisition would have snowballed into possibly acquiring coveted free agent Nene; formerly of the Denver Nuggets. The idea in the NBA now is if you have one star, you could get another.

The Rockets over the past few seasons have failed to take the first step in that theory. This trade was that first step, and while no guarantees could be made on potential acquisitions post Pau, the gates were unlocked for change. The after effects did seem to cause some discomfort as one would expect. Gasol made it clear he didn’t want to leave the Lakers, and Kevin Martin showed signs of discomfort.

As we know now, Martin was slowly removed from the Rockets rotation, and Goran Dragic exploded on the scene as a bona fide starter.

The Rockets failed to make the postseason for the third straight time, and now have significant issues to address. Will bringing back Dragic and restricted free agent Courtney Lee be enough? Will having two first round draft picks in the 2012 NBA Draft let this team take the next big step forward? Will the 7-foot Lithuanian Donatas Motiej?nas make a significant impact, as he joins this Rockets team next season?

While the Rockets have some positives, they still remain starless. Recent reports showed that the Rockets were the last team standing in the Dwight Howard rental sweepstakes. If Dwight had decided to officially move on from the Orlando Magic, the Rockets were ready to scoop him up without a commitment.

Instead, the Rockets continued to fight without a closer, which eventually led to another season ending dud.

The Lakers, who are now on summer vacation courtesy of the Oklahoma City Thuder, find themselves in a position for change as well. The biggest name on that list of change is Pau Gasol. If the Lakers were slightly reluctant to trade Gasol before, you can bet that reluctance has diminished. Gasol is set to make $19,000,000 next season at the age of 31 and is coming of another solid year in which he averaged 17.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game, all while shooting 50%. Gasol’s playoff numbers took a significant hit. With only 12.5 points per game, and 9.50 rebounds per game, Gasol was back on the hot seat, being criticized for his “softness” as he is so often.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard continues to report that the Rockets do seem like a logical option for the Lakers to approach, and that the Rockets remain interested in Gasol.

“Houston is looking for a star. They love Pau Gasol,” Broussard said. “Would the Lakers be interested in some type of deal involving maybe Luis Scola, and Kyle Lowry? Lowry is expendable now that Goran Dragic has established himself down in Houston.”

Broussard has reported the Rockets interest in Gasol for months now, and being that the Rockets haven’t changed much since the original trade; it is fair to assume Gasol still may be a Rocket before the season begins. All this depends on whether unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic can be resigned by the Rockets, who are sitting on plenty of cap space. Perhaps with a Lowry trade in place, Dragic is more likely to return to Houston, knowing he will be running the show at the point.

Assuming the trade does involve Scola, and Lowry, the Rockets will need to solidify the backcourt, making Courtney Lee an essential piece to the puzzle. The front court will also need to be addressed. The 38 year old Marcus Camby will most likely be back at a hometown discount, and it’s still a mystery if the Rockets will pick up the $6,700,000 team option on Samuel Dalembert. Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson had a rough year, and the offseason will be a crucial barometer on how the Rockets move forward with him.

Scola, who is a huge fan favorite in Houston, is under contract through the 2014/15 season. The Rockets nabbed Scola from the San Antonio Spurs, and haven’t looked back since. Scola has consistently played hard, but is showing signs of decline, specifically on the defensive end.

Even with the acquisition of Gasol, the Rockets would need more. But would it be a step in the right direction? Does Gasol really carry the interest for a domino effect to take place? Do the Rockets even have the luxury to pass up on a proven big man at this point and time?

For now the rumor mill continues to churn. The days leading up to the draft will be very interesting for this Houston Rockets team, and their general manager Daryl Morey. As the saying goes here in Houston, “trust in Morey.”

Big Baby Had A Big Impact In Orlando

The Magic did not make the splash many expected in the shortened offseason. Orlando had some work to do to appease Dwight Howard, so the thought would go, this summer and there hardly seemed to be a splashy move in sight.

The biggest offseason acquisition was a sign and trade of power forwards. Orlando sent Brandon Bass to Boston for Glen Davis. Davis got a four-year deal for $24 million. He was allegedly on the list of players Dwight Howard had requested the Magic to go after in trades and add to the team. This was the move for this team.

Fans were admittedly skeptical.

It was not just that Davis was “the enemy” for so long. One of the admittedly funny issues that had to be resolved when Davis came over was the reconciliation between Davis and the fan he bumped into during the 2009 Finals. That family still owns seats right near the Magic bench. That was a non-issue, of course, but it shows the emotion that had to be overcome when Davis officially donned Magic blue.

Those defending the deal only saw it as a step to the side, not a step forward. Bass was a much better shooter and seemed to pair up with Dwight Howard a lot better than Davis would. The differences defensively and with his leadership seemed negligible or intangible at that point.

Things got off to a poor start, too.

Davis averaged 7.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. More alarmingly, Davis was shooting 36.1 percent from the floor. His shot was noticeably flat and he was a liability offensively. Davis was not delivering on the Magic’s faith in him.

Davis admitted that he was trying a little too hard to match Bass’ production in Boston. Bass came right into the starting lineup for the Celtics and made an impact. Davis wanted to do the same. The only problem was he was playing behind Ryan Anderson, the league’s Most Improved Player and someone who proved to be a better fit for the offense.

“I know the beginning of the year was kind of rocky for me,” Davis said at exit interviews. “A lot of people didn’t know what was going on, how I was going. A lot of stuff happened that I had no control over. When I finally settled down and began to do the things that I love to do — and that is play the game of basketball at a high level — I feel like I did a pretty good job coming in and filling the void that was there with Dwight (Howard) leaving.”

It was a tough year for Davis and he said he was frustrated by his lack of playing time and his smaller role with the team. Things did not turn around until he accepted his role and began to do what he does best — play with energy and enthusiasm and provide a defensive rock in the paint.

This became even more evident when Dwight Howard went out.

Davis’ numbers remained virtually the same into February and March after his slow start. But his field goal percentage began to slowly creep up. With Howard out in April, Davis began to really flourish. He averaged 16.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game. He shot 50.3 percent from the floor, a dramatic increase from his middling shooting from the beginning of the year.

With this responsibility, Davis flourished. He stepped up his game even more in the Playoffs with 19.0 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game.

More than that though, Davis became an emotional leader for the team. It was Davis who coined the rallying cry, “We All We Got,” and energized his team with over-the-top efforts in the playoffs. Davis was key to all those crazed second quarter comebacks and you could see by the way Davis was struggling to get up and down the floor how much the effort meant to him and his teammates.

By the end, he had endeared himself to Magic fans. He had won them over. And the Magic would have tanked without him in the lineup for sure. No offense to Brandon Bass.

Davis said his goal this offseason is to build his conditioning so he can play 40 minutes per game. That is a big goal. And Davis said he intends on starting next year.

“That was one of the reasons I went through my funk because I thought I should be a starter,” Davis said. “When I finally got over that, I started playing better. Then at the same time, you pray and God delivered for me the opportunity to play big minutes and I showed the world what I can do.

“Yeah, I want to start. But at the end of the day, I can’t leave it for no chance. I’ve got to be the best player that I can be, so when it comes down to pick the starters, there can be no question. I don’t want no question, nothing in nobody’s mind to make them feel like I shouldn’t be starting. And that’s my approach to the whole summer.”

As Otis Smith described it, having two guys who want to and expect to start is a good problem to have. He certainly likes that Davis has the ambition to play the majority of the minutes next season.

Yes, Orlando still has three more season with Davis. There remains some trepidation about the length of that contract.

For the first year, Davis proved his worth. He won over the skeptical fans enough and became the team’s emotional leader. There were not many surprises in this forgettable season, but this one certainly qualified as a pleasant one.