Reunion with Frank Vogel? Lakers interested in Monta Ellis

After working out with the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, Monta Ellis has received another interest from a contender in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers have reached out to Ellis‘ business manager Derrius Nelson of Dagger Basketball Agency, who quickly arranged a conference call with his client Monday.

“I told them that Tae is not big on being a star anymore. He’s been there already,” Nelson told Empire Sports Media. “His [possible] addition can make them one of the best LA Lakers teams to go down in history. With Tae being there, it would be crazy!”

“Derrius, that’s why I’m calling because I know what type of player Monta is. I was a huge fan of him; his [past] works and the time he put in the NBA override a lot of guys that’s been coming to work out because he is reliable,” the Lakers representative was quoted as saying to Nelson. 

Ellis has previously played under Lakers coach Frank Vogel in Indiana. In his lone season under Vogel, Ellis averaged 13.8 points and 4.7 assists.

Vogel appreciated Ellis’ transformation from a big-time scorer into more of a playmaker, embracing the Pacers’ ball movement during their time together.

“He came in here with the reputation of being a big-time scorer, and we’ve been overwhelmed with his ability to pass the basketball [and] to create. That’s what’s been most impressive to me, so I think we’re using him more in that regard rather than just asking him to go score,” Vogel said in 2016.

He settled in nicely with his then newfound role as the veteran leader of a young Pacers team that featured a 25-year old Paul George entering his prime. Ellis was instrumental in helping the Pacers pushed the more experienced Toronto Raptors to seven games in the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.3 assists in that series.

“I think it’s who he is,” said Vogel. “First of all, he’s got great will and determination to win. I think he recognizes that we’ve still got a fairly young team — a team where a lot of guys are either young or in new roles. He’s helped a lot of these guys with his experience — sharing his experiences.”

“Monta is at a point in his career where scoring 25 points or 20 points isn’t the most important thing to him. What’s most important to him is winning every night. That’s a blessing and welcome thing for a head coach — to have a guy who is just going to go out and do whatever it takes to win a game. If he scores four points and we win, he’s happy. If we need [him] to go out and get 20, 25 points to help us win, that’s what he’s going to try and go out to do. I love that he’s all about winning right now,” Vogel added.

But after Vogel’s contract was not renewed at the end of the season, Ellis quickly fell out of favor as the Pacers decided to go in a different direction. Nate McMillan was hired to lead the rebuilding process. A season later, the Pacers traded away Paul George and stretched Ellis’ remaining years of his contract.

Now 35, Ellis said in a previous exclusive interview with Empire Sports Media that he still has it. He trained under top NBA trainer Joe Abunassar to prepare for this comeback attempt, and so far, it yielded two workouts and possibly three more with the Lakers one of them.

Five years since their first team-up, Ellis and Vogel’s paths could meet again, with the Lakers stacking up veterans for another possible title run. Currently, the Lakers have 13 players on guaranteed contracts. They also have two players in undrafted rookies Mac McClung and Chaundee Brown on Exhibit 10 deals and a pair of two-way players in rookies Joel Ayayi and Austin Reeves. 

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Knicks sweep Rockets for the first time in 18 years, inch closer to playoffs

Houston Rockets rookie coach Stephen Silas first saw this type of New York basketball almost three decades ago when he was a Knicks ball boy.

His father, Paul Silas, was one of former Knicks coach Pat Riley’s assistants in 1992. The younger Silas, a high school kid back then, relished the moment of picking up the ball for Patrick Ewing and co. and watching them play tough and physical from the Garden stanchion during the Knicks’ glory days. 

On Sunday night, he watched a reincarnation of that old Knicks squad crushed his young Rockets team in a 122-97 masterclass at the Toyota Center.

“They will try to grind you down, almost like they used to be when I was a ballboy for the Knicks with Patrick (Ewing) and Oak (Charles Oakley) and Mark (Jackson,)” Silas said before the game. They are a tough team.”

On top of that impenetrable defense, the Knicks continued to showcase their impeccable outside shooting. They fired 18 threes on an efficient 51.4 percent clip to kickstart May after leading the league in three-point accuracy (42.2 percent) last month. 

Tom Thibodeau, who indirectly came from the Riley coaching tree via Jeff Van Gundy, has successfully blended the old Knicks’ defensive toughness with an offense that is more in tune with modern times. 

The Rockets fell prey to the league’s top three-point defense, hitting only eight three-pointers. The Knicks held them to 43 percent shooting from the field and 22.9 percent from deep.

Julius Randle got plenty of rest for the second game of their back-to-back schedule tomorrow night in Memphis.

Randle led the Knicks with 31 points in just 30 minutes. It was the eighth time in the last 10 games Randle put up at least 30 points.

The first-time NBA All-Star added seven rebounds and six assists as he received MVP chants on the road. After Randle knocked down back-to-back treys that broke the game wide open in the third quarter, Knicks executive vice president and senior advisor William Wesley aka World Wide Wes, could not contain his emotion and admiration. The Knicks top executive’s animated celebration appeared to be a validation of his offseason move that pushed Randle to All-Star level.

Already assured of at least a play-in spot, the Knicks have higher aspirations, and it showed in their performance tonight that set the tone for their six-game West Coast trip.

The win pushed the Knicks closer to ending their seven-year playoff drought. Even if they drop all their remaining games, the Knicks are still assured of a .500 season. The hottest team in the league, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, continue to hold 1.5 games lead over the Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat — both sporting a 35-30 record — for the fourth seed in the East. The Knicks hope to maintain that sole position that comes with a homecourt edge in the first round of the playoffs.

But the win proved costly, though as Nerlens Noel rolled his ankle with 6:57 left in the third quarter and did not return.

The Knicks are already without Mitchell Robinson, who Thibodeau said has no timetable yet for his return. 

The ageless Taj Gibson gave the Knicks a huge lift off the bench with six points and five rebounds in 31 minutes. He had a game-high plus/minus plus-36. Derrick Rose came next with plus-35 in a huge offensive night.

Rose caught up with his former Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, who currently serves as a Rockets assistant, before the game. Then he proceeded to match his season-high scoring with 24 points on 8-of-11 shots. Ten years removed from being the league’s youngest MVP, Rose is blooming once again. The 32-year old guard added six rebounds, four assists, and one steal. 

He spearheaded the Knicks bench which exploded for 50 points that complemented Randle’s big night.

Immanuel Quickley joined the party with 13 points and three threes, including one near the center court logo.

RJ Barrett barrelled his way to 21 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and two steals in 40 minutes.

The Rockets gave Silas a semblance of hope when they led, 15-10, in the first quarter. But it turned out to be their last gallant stand as he was quickly reminded of the old Knicks team he used to watch up close in the 90s. 

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New York Knicks: The crux of a potential Victor Oladipo trade

As the trade deadline approaches, the trade chatter for Victor Oladipo is growing louder.

The Golden State Warriors are the latest team to have shown interest in trading for Oladipo, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. But the New York Knicks are still in the running based on Marc Berman of the New York Post and Scoop B’s latest reports.

Oladipo is averaging 19.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals in 15 games for the Rockets while shooting 39 percent from the field and just 31 percent from the three-point area. But he’s notched a season-high 33 and five triples in their recent loss to Brooklyn Nets.

Oladipo cost the Rockets a rising star in Caris LeVert, who is due for $35-million in the next two seasons, and a future second-round pick. Houston’s first-year general manager Rafael Stone said at that time that the Oladipo trade was all about creating flexibility.

“Your hope is that it’s a perfect marriage,” Stone said after essentially getting Oladipo for James Harden. “(Oladipo’s) an extremely talented player. He’s a two-way player. He’s played at an extraordinarily high level. He’s obviously had a significant injury. He’s back. He’s already really, really good, but I think in his own mind and in ours, there’s still room to grow, which is really exciting.

“I think for him and for us, this is like a really exciting time where we get to see if it works out. Hopefully, it just works out gangbusters, and then we take it from there.”

Two months after the trade, the Oladipo experiment appears to be a failure on the surface. But when the Rockets were healthy, Oladipo was their most valuable two-way player with the best defensive rating.

Despite a 13-game losing streak entering the NBA All-Star break, the Rockets have not seen enough of Oladipo, John Wall, and Christian Wood together that may factor in their trade deadline decisions.

The Rockets’ version of ‘diet Big 3’ in the post-Harden has only shared the court for only 53 minutes together this season.

Houston’s front office appears not ready to pull the trigger on a fire sale yet.

“The Rockets have no interest, according to an individual familiar with the team’s thinking, in pursuing their version of “The Process,” by trading off veterans to collect assets and losses that could help lottery chances,” Houston Chronicle and Rockets insider Jonathan Feigen recently wrote.

The Rockets owe their top four-protected 2021 first-round pick to Oklahoma City as part of the Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade. If the Rockets remain one of the three worst teams, the best they could have is a 52.1 percent chance of landing in the top four. There’s still a big chance that their pick goes to the Thunder; hence their hesitation to tanking is understandable.

So Houston is torn between full-scale rebuild and trying to stay relevant.

With Wood expected to return after the All-Star break, the Rockets will at least have four games left to gauge whether they flip or keep Oladipo.

This is where the flexibility Stone was talking about comes in.

The Rockets could create roughly $20 million in cap space if they let Oladipo and their veterans on expiring deals walk after the season.

There’s also a remote chance that the Rockets could work on a sign-and-trade with Oladipo akin to the Gordon Hayward deal between Boston and Charlotte to create a large amount of trade exception in the offseason.

Their best bet is to flip Oladipo at the trade deadline. But at what price?

“The Victor Oladipo situation, he will absolutely be of interest to teams, but the Rockets have to gauge what they bring back. If they’re bringing back $21 million worth of contracts, they better want those guys,” Feigen said on Texas Sports Nation recently.

The Rockets have given up LeVert and a draft pick for Oladipo, so we assume that they would want something more or the same value back.

The Miami Heat have Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, but they are standing pat, believing they could land Oladipo for free in the free agency.

The Warriors don’t have much to offer except Kelly Oubre, Jr., unless they want to flip the Minnesota Timberwolves’ top-three protected pick from the D’Angelo Russell trade.

Outside Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks don’t have players that Rockets would view as a potential core piece. But they have expiring deals and the draft capital to lure the Rockets.

The crux of a potential Oladipo trade not only lies in what the Rockets would want in exchange but, more so, in how the Knicks view him at this stage of his career.

Will Oladipo ever be healthy?

He’s only 28, but he has never played a full season since he entered the league. The most he has played is 80 games during his rookie year. He’s only played a total of 55 games over the last two seasons. This season, he has yet to play in back-to-back games.

Is he a short-term rental, or do they believe they have a shot at keeping him beyond this season?

Oladipo is definitely an upgrade over Reggie Bullock for the offensively-challenged Knicks and can enhance their playoff chances. If the Knicks trade for him, the sense is that they are trying to one-up the Heat in the recruiting process; that they believe their new culture will convince Oladipo to stay in New York beyond the season.

But it’s a double-edged sword.

There’s that risk of the Knicks still not making the playoffs, and as a result, Oladipo would still want to go to the more established Heat organization.

If there is anything we have learned so far from Leon Rose’s leadership, they are navigating this Knicks rebuild with prudence and patience.

The overwhelming sense is that the Knicks will ride out the season with what they have and make the big moves in the summer.

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Report: Nets, Rockets verbally agree on James Harden blockbuster trade

The Brooklyn Nets and the Houston Rockets are nearing completion of a blockbuster deal that will send James Harden to Brooklyn, according to Anthony Puccio of Front Office Sports.

Multiple sources have told Puccio that there’s a deal in place, and both teams already have a verbal agreement.

Shortly after the news broke out, Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated put out more details on the imminent trade.

The Rockets are seeking a massive haul in return for Harden, who has been the face of the franchise since 2012. The 2018 MVP earned his third scoring title last season after averaging 34.3 points. In addition to his dynamic scoring, Harden also averaged 7.6 assists, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.8 steals, becoming just the third player to lead the NBA in total points and steals to join Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson in the exclusive group.

Harden, 31, earlier rejected a two-year, $103-million extension offer putting more pressure on the Rockets to trade him to his preferred destination.

The Nets rose on top of Harden’s wish list after conversations with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the West Coast, and with former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni joining the Nets in an assistant role to first-time head coach Steve Nash.

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Report: James Harden badly wants Nets trade, rejects Rockets’ massive extension offer

James Harden is pulling an Anthony Davis act as the Houston Rockets superstar is ‘singularly focused on a trade to the Brooklyn Nets‘, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Harden is taking a page from Davis and Klutch Sports’ playbook, which forced the New Orleans Pelicans to trade him to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019. One year later, Davis won a championship.

Harden reportedly made his intentions clear to the Rockets’ new management, led by first-time general manager Rafael Stone, when he rejected a two-year, $103 million extension that could have locked him in Houston for the next five years.

Harden believes his window to win a title with the Rockets ended when they parted ways with long-time general manager Daryl Morey and coach Mike D’Antoni.

The idea of forming a super team in Brooklyn came to shape in recent weeks. Harden had conversations with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving that ramped up his decision. The Rockets, however, made it known to the Nets and the rest of the league that they expect a massive haul in return for their franchise player.

“That means young players, draft picks and salary-cap relief,” Wojnarowski said on Monday night’s edition of ESPN’s Sports Center.

With three years left in Harden’s contract, including a player option on the third year, the Rockets plan to play this out and create a bidding war if the situation is no longer salvageable.

It appears Harden has already made up his mind.

The 31-year old superstar hopes to have his next two years contending for the title with the Nets before he can opt-out and decide what to do next with his career.

His contract fits the timeline of Durant and Irving with the Nets. Durant and Irving have three years left, a player option in the third year, in their respective contracts.

Harden played with Durant in Oklahoma City before he got traded to the Rockets in 2012. On the other hand, he played with Irving at Team USA.

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Knicks weigh Westbrook trade, Rockets star denies Harden rift

New York Knicks, Russell Westbrook

Despite Russell Westbrook coming out in the open to deny the supposed rift with James Harden, the trade chatter just wouldn’t die.

Westbrook replied on ESPN’s Instagram post quoting Stephen A. Smith’s claim of the alleged rift, denying that the Rockets’ superstars no longer want to play together.

”It’s my birthday, but I should say. This is completely fabricated. Y’all have a good night,” Westbrook said.

But even Westbrook’s denial couldn’t stop the trade chatter building up for what could be a blockbuster trade in this compressed offseason.

Marc Stein of the New York Times tweeted on Friday that the New York Knicks have weighed trading for Westbrook.

There’s a debate whether the Knicks are willing to absorb the massive $132.7 million left on his five-year, $206.8 million contract.

The Knicks are one of the only few teams who can absorb Westbrook’s contract without having to match salaries. The other teams who have cap space are the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons.

Jonathan Macri of the New York Film School, on the other hand, wrote in his Friday newsletter that a package centered on Julius Randle had been discussed.

“According to multiple league sources, the Knicks have discussed the specifics of a package that would bring the 2016-17 NBA MVP to New York. The sources indicate that none of the Knicks’ key young pieces are on the table (read: RJ, Mitch, and as far as I can tell, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina), nor will they be. The same goes for any of New York’s own draft picks. I’ve heard Julius Randle would be going, along with some sort of draft asset – maybe 27, maybe 38, maybe one of the Dallas picks – but I can’t confirm which,” Macri wrote.

Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson of also tweeted last night that the Knicks are not the only team in Westbrook/Rockets’ trade partner wishlist.

Robinson also reported that the Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers have also discussed trading Paul George in exchange for Westbrook and Robert Covington.

Westbrook, a nine-time All-NBA team member, had just turned 32 yesterday. The Rockets acquired Westbrook from Oklahoma City Thunder last year in exchange for Chris Paul. The Rockets also sent two protected first-round picks to the Thunder.

Westbrook averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.6 steals in 57 games for the Rockets last season.

Earlier this week, ESPN reported that both Westbrook and Harden had expressed concern on the franchise’s direction after parting ways with former coach Mike D’Antoni and general manager Daryl Morey.

The Rockets, who elevated Rafael Stone from assistant to general manager, and hiring first-time head coach Stephen Silas, have maintained they are still committed to contending for the title around their superstars.

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