Paolo Banchero was almost a Rocket, but everything went well for Houston


Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero revealed to Yahoo’s Chris Haynes that before the draft he expected to join the Houston Rockets. “All that was said there was I was going No. 3 in Houston,” Banchero said. “That’s kind of where I was, and that was fine with me. I was going to be happy wherever I went because I knew ultimately it was going to be okay. But in Houston, I would say it’s okay. is where my head was at that time.”

Banchero went on to say that Rockets guards Jalen Green and Josh Christopher would call him to answer any questions he had about the organization and the city. “I grew up on the west coast with both of them. I’ve been playing them since sixth, seventh grade. Me coming from Seattle and them from California, we’ve played in a lot of tournaments and camps together. So yeah, they definitely have held out your hand.”


I repeatedly wrote that I wanted Banchero, reaching that opinion in the weeks leading up to the project. And he certainly showed he was ready for the NBA in the Summer League, displaying the passing and shot-creating ability that made him such a tantalizing prospect. Rockets fans can always wonder what the combination of Banchero and Green might have once looked like – the fastbreaks with Paolo pushing the pace, the dribbling transfers into the half court.

But I still maintain that picking Jabari Smith Jr. makes it easier to build the roster. It adapts to whatever you put around it, like Green. That kind of versatility gives a GM options, which is key with Houston expected to have another high lottery pick next summer and tons of cash below the cap to spend in free agency.

Talking about that….

Will the prodigal son return?

The Sixers guard James Harden against the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round Playoffs, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Philadelphia.Yong Kim/TNS

On Wednesday, James Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. The deal includes a second-year player option, giving Harden control of his destiny after the 2022-23 season. In what was seen as a surprising turn of events, Harden took a substantial pay cut after declining his $47.4 million player option for the upcoming season. This act of selflessness allowed the 76ers to sign old pals PJ Tucker and Danuel House to give Philadelphia a nearly impossible punching chance in the Eastern Conference.

Harden said all the right things about his new home and his partnership with MVP contender Joel Embiid. But what if this partnership turns south in the direction of Harden’s last union, in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? With John Wall’s contracts off the books, the Rockets should have $70 million in cap space to upgrade their team. And Harden’s new contract conveniently includes a player option…

I know I know. I wrote on this same page that I would have no interest in Harden returning to Bayou City. “Time to move on,” I said. But I had tears in my eyes the other day imagining a veteran Harden slipping into point guard, like Chris Paul did for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Phoenix Suns, and leading this young group of Next Generation Rockets in the qualifying tournament. . I probably wouldn’t have felt that if the Rockets had drafted Banchero because I wouldn’t want to take the ball out of his hands. But with Smith, the fit is seamless. You can almost imagine Smith and Tari Eason wreaking havoc defensively on the wings, Green carrying the scoring charge, Alperen Sengun working magic in the post, while Harden sits back and facilitates in a way few others have been able in NBA history. Sigh.

Get ready, reader. It’s a story I’ll be checking back on periodically this coming season.

More Russian drama in Hollywood

Russell Westbrook (0) and LeBron James (6) of the Los Angeles Lakers discuss play during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at Arena on February 16, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Russell Westbrook (0) and LeBron James (6) of the Los Angeles Lakers discuss play during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at Arena on February 16, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Former Rocket Russell Westbrook has been making headlines again in recent weeks, providing more fuel for the NBA’s constant gossip mill. Most recently, Westbrook parted ways with his longtime agent (spurring the most bizarre farewell message in recent memory) and refused to pay his respects to the King as he sat courtside at the Summer League. Just another day in LaLa country.

Incoming Lakers head coach Darvin Ham wants Westbrook to lead the snake defensively and put up screens at the other end, moving without the ball. It’s almost mind-boggling how anyone would think Russ would change now, so late in his career, when he’s been resisting for so long. Even with the Rockets, in his one season — perhaps the most effective of his career — it wasn’t that Russ started playing with the ball, but rather that he cut ineffective jumping from his regimen. . It also helped the Rockets overhaul their entire system to accommodate his presence, dispatching their starting center and embracing small ball for the duration of their playoff push.

The latest trade news involves a staring stare between the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets for a wrap featuring Westbrook and Irving. Right now, the Lakers brass are said to be resisting demands to include one of their future first-round draft picks, a position I think they almost have to go down once enough time has passed. elapsed and camp is imminent. I mean, they have to, right? I don’t want to bid against myself (Irving’s market is dry with few other serious contenders) but the Lakers aren’t exactly in a strong position. I would be absolutely flabbergasted if general manager Rob Pelinka let a first-round pick stand between him and Irving, the team’s only viable path to discord, in LeBron James’ 38-year-old season. They can’t win with Westbrook. They just can’t. We should know by now.