NBA scout Brent ‘BJ’ Johnson dies in bike accident

There was a tragic accident Thursday that took the life of one of the most popular scouts in the NBA. Per the Houston Chronicle:

Longtime Rockets personnel scout Brent “B.J.” Johnson, a well-known and popular fixture throughout basketball, died Thursday evening following a bicycle accident in Houston. Johnson was 65.

“He was riding his bike and hit a culvert,” Johnson’s wife Claudette said. “There was construction. They are thinking he fell forward and broke his neck because there was no blood.”

Johnson was one of the longest-tenured members of the Rockets organization.

Everyone who knew Johnson has very kind words about him. He’ll be greatly missed.

Daryl Morey, Houston Rockets parting ways

The Houston Rockets will be in search of a new general manager. Statements from the team:

Daryl Morey: “After returning from Orlando and reflecting on what has been an amazing 14 years with the Houston Rockets, and after discussing my thoughts with family and close friends, I’ve decided I’ll be stepping away from the Rockets organization effective November 1st. Tilman and I have had many conversations since I returned, and his unwavering support and counsel during our time together has been critical to our success. It has been the most gratifying experience of my professional life to lead the Rockets basketball organization, and I look forward to working with Tilman and the management team on the transition. I am very confident that the future – for the Rockets, and for our incredible fans – is in great hands, and that the Rockets will continue to perform at the highest level.”

Rockets Owner Tilman J. Fertitta: “On behalf of the entire Rockets organization, I would like to thank Daryl Morey for his hard work and dedication over the past 14 seasons. Daryl is a brilliant innovator who helped the Rockets become a perennial contender. I have truly enjoyed working with Daryl and couldn’t have asked for a better general manager to have at the start of my ownership. I wish him and his family all the best.”

Rockets will reportedly interview Jeff Van Gundy for head coaching job

Young NBA fans these days know Jeff Van Gundy as an NBA broadcaster, but anyone who has been around for a while also remembers him as a head coach. He knows the job. Here’s the New York Post on a development:

Jeff Van Gundy hasn’t coached in the NBA since he was fired by the Houston Rockets in 2007, but he is on his former team’s list as a potential candidate to replace Mike D’Antoni.

Van Gundy, who has worked as a game analyst for ESPN since his last coaching gig, will interview with the Rockets on Wednesday, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported on Twitter.

The Rockets already interviewed Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue on Monday, and Houston assistant John Lucas is expected to be brought in next to discuss the opening after Van Gundy meets with GM Daryl Morey. Lue reportedly also remains a candidate for vacancies with the Los Angeles Clippers and the New Orleans Pelicans.

Van Gundy doing the interview means he’s obviously interested in the position. He has one of the best jobs in NBA broadcasting these days — a spot most people in basketball would not want to give up. Perhaps he truly does miss coaching.

The Rockets are also a fairly unique team, in that they are unbelievably guard-heavy, and have a roster that is currently built to play as they currently play: giving James Harden and sometimes Russell Westbrook the ball and creating three-point opportunities for the entire team. If the roster remains largely the same, what would Van Gundy do differently than former Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni? Perhaps we’ll find out.

Steve Kerr has funny reaction to idea of Warriors playing like Rockets

Before you read this, be clear that this appears to be a light-hearted, not-that-serious conversation.

With that disclaimer in place, enjoy this from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr respects what Houston Rockets guard James Harden does on the court, but has no interest in modeling his team’s offense after the former MVP’s style of play.

While appearing on The TK Show podcast with The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, Kerr spoke about not “reinventing the wheel” with a fully healthy Dubs roster next season.

“We’re still going to be the Warriors,” he said. “We’re not going to all of a sudden turn into the Rockets and change our offense and have one guy go high pick-and-roll 70 times a game.”

When Kawakami responded with a joke that Kerr should upend his offensive philosophy and embrace isolation basketball, Kerr responded, “I think I would resign first.”

Of course, the Rockets play like they do in part because they have no forwards or centers that actually create their own offense. So for them, it makes sense to have James Harden, with help from Russell Westbrook, create practically everything. The Warriors are certainly guard-heavy in the talent and scoring department, but Draymond Green’s passing ability is a weapon, and although his scoring ability is limited, he’s still useful and versatile on the offensive side of the floor. He’s also not as good a three-point shooter as someone like Rockets forward PJ Tucker, so stashing Green in the corner for him to only shoot threes would be a waste of Green’s talents.

Mike D’Antoni may be frontrunner for Sixers head coaching job

The Sixers have a talent-filled but chemistry-challenged roster that is in need of a new head coach after they recently parted ways with Brett Brown. Here’s Philly Voice with a look at one of the top candidates: Mike D’Antoni, who recently became a coaching free agent after his contract with the Rockets ran out.

Strengths: His most recent stint as the head coach of the Houston Rockets was another huge success in a revolutionary offensive career, with D’Antoni’s Rockets owning the highest regular-season win percentage (.682) of any team in the Western Conference over the last four seasons. D’Antoni’s arrival ushered in a run of super-powered offenses in Houston, who were scoring healthily before he arrived but took things to another level with D’Antoni. His track record of super-charging players on offense is terrific, and would fill a need for a Sixers team in need of a jolt.

Weaknesses: D’Antoni has had trouble when he has been asked to adapt to personnel that doesn’t fit cleanly into his idea of how basketball should be played. The 2012-13 Lakers, for example, were a disaster of comical proportions. His Knicks tenure, save for a brief renaissance when Amare Stoudemire first signed there, was a complete disaster. D’Antoni and Joel Embiid seem like oil and water, and Ben Simmons only seems to be a fit if he’s unleashed as a downhill rim-running threat, which is not really possible with this roster.

The latest intel: The rumors have been coming fast and furious on D’Antoni, who appears (at least at this moment) to be the frontrunner.

Should Mike D’Antoni get Sixers coaching job?

Mike D’Antoni has reportedly notified the Houston Rockets that he won’t be returning to the squad next season. His contract was up. The Sixers recently parted ways with head coach Brett Brown. Could D’Antoni be a fit? Here’s Philly Voice with some of the reasons why it could work:

If you want somebody to come to Philadelphia and run more pick-and-roll, look no further. D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll offense has coaxed the best out of both his ballhandlers and his big men, with rim-running threats like Amare Stoudemire and Clint Capela blossoming under his watch.

Joel Embiid doesn’t seem to fit the mold of that sort of player, but perhaps D’Antoni’s arrival would signal a change of emphasis for Embiid, who could do with a steadier diet of rim runs (and an improvement to his actual diet). Ben Simmons, however, feels like a natural fit as the athletic, downhill forward who can put pressure on the rim to create gaps for ballhandlers. D’Antoni is one of the game’s best stewards of positionless basketball, and Simmons would give him a terrific building block for all sorts of lineup experimentation.

Though D’Antoni has not had the strongest defensive reputation throughout his career — okay, that’s an understatement — the Sixers should be able to play high-level defense in almost any system with Embiid and Simmons as the building blocks. What they need is someone who can make their lives easier on offense, and extract more offensive value out of a jumbled collection of role players, easing the scoring burden on two guys still developing their games.

The Sixers are built around Embiid, Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. A somewhat confusing mix of players. The team’s offense is what does need the biggest help, as the Sixers were higher-rated on the defensive side of the floor this past season.

It’ll take a clever coach to help these guys take things to the next level. As well as some GM work on the roster, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Lakers take 3-1 playoff series lead on Rockets

On Thursday, the Lakers beat the Rockets 110-100 to take a 3-1 second round playoff series lead. Things got close in the end, but lack of Rockets energy and execution through much of the game proved too much to overcome. The Lakers got their usual excellent production from stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but also got a boost from Alex Caruso, who came off the bench to score 16 points, contributing several clutch plays late in the game that helped secure the win. Here’s the Los Angeles Times with some thoughts on the game and beyond:

It’s pretty surprising to see a team be up 2-1 and unleash a drastic change, but here the Lakers were, inserting Markieff Morris, sitting JaVale McGee and trying out rookie Talen Horton-Tucker…

You can really feel when LeBron James takes over because he plays with so much force and power. Anthony Davis operates a little differently. His 29 on Thursday hit mostly with a whisper, silently being in the right spot – with a few exceptions when he loudly caught Rajon Rondo lobs…

Alex Caruso scored 16 – a playoff high, but more importantly, Vogel trusted him to play 30 minutes, his most this postseason. He’s been the Lakers’ most consistent defender on the perimeter, and he’s earning the Lakers’ trust.

The Rockets struggled from three-point range in the first half, but then woke up in the second, finishing 14 of 33 from beyond the arc. James Harden shot just 2 of 11 from the field, but got himself 20 free throw attempts to finish with 21 points and 10 assists. Russell Westbrook shot 8 of 16 for a team-high 25 points in the loss.

Rajon Rondo back in action for Lakers, who lose Game 1 to Rockets

The Lakers lost Game 1 to the Rockets yesterday. But at least they won in getting guard Rajon Rondo back in action.

That’s a win of sorts, right? Maybe?

Here’s the OC Register reporting:

With Rajon Rondo, the story is always refracted depending on the eye of the beholder.

Some fans saw his return – an eight-point, four-assist, four-turnover debut after a month and a half on the shelf – as a rusty disappointment. But Rondo’s Laker teammates hope it’s just a starting point for him to build on after missing every bubble game with a fractured thumb followed by back spasms.

Alex Caruso said he thought Rondo’s first in-game action since March 10, in a 112-97 loss to Houston on Friday night, was about where he should be at this point.

“I thought he looked about his normal self,” Caruso said. “Maybe he missed a layup or a shot he normally makes and maybe that’s a little timing and getting used to playing the game again. But I mean, Rondo’s a guy that’s mentally locked in whenever he steps on the court, so I thought he looked pretty good conditioning-wise.”

The Lakers have a lot of work to do. The Rockets’ Game 1 win was convincing. They’re an unusual team, playing super-smallball. Teams going against them have to make some adjustments, but not too many, or else they’d pull themselves out of their own gameplan. It’ll be fascinating to see what, if anything, the Lakers do differently in Game 2. And of course, Rondo’s role going forward.

P.J. Tucker plays a huge role for Rockets

P.J. Tucker is one of the most important players in the NBA playoffs who doesn’t put up big numbers in the scoring department. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on a key member of the Houston Rockets, who currently lead the Los Angeles Lakers 1-0 in their second-round playoff series:

If the Rockets have dog inside of them, Tucker is a mastiff. Friday he scored six points but scrapped for nine rebounds against the Lakers’ bigger frontcourt. With him on the court, Houston was 16 points better than the Lakers — a Rockets best in the plus-minus rating.

The 35-year-old forward played professionally in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy and Germany before finding a home in the NBA. Among coaches, he’s revered for his toughness and his awareness, a player willing to take on the toughest challenge on defense while parking in the corner on offense, ready to catch and shoot if the ball makes its way to him.

After beating the Lakers, Tucker was asked about the Rockets being small and having to body up with James and Davis, and in his answer, he delivered his mission statement.

“Yeah, I’m short. But I’m strong and I can move my feet,” he said with defiance. “And I can stay in front of anybody. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to fight every play. They’re going to score. Those guys are two of the best players of our generation — they’re going to score the ball. They’re going to score a lot of times. But we’re going to try and make it tough, try and make them work hard, and try to wear them down throughout the game.”

In Game 1, Rockets looked like a complicated playoff opponent for Lakers

The Rockets looked great Friday as they took a 1-0 series lead against the Lakers in the second round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. Known for their very effective “smallball” offense, the Rockets’ defense has been outstanding in Disney NBA bubble play. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on the series:

As they prepare for Game 2 on Sunday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., maybe the Lakers need to deal with the fact that they don’t have the overwhelming advantages they possessed after losing their first-round playoff opener to Portland.

The Rockets are more blazers than the Blazers. The Rockets are quicker, deeper and far more dangerous. They can make the Lakers look stagnant and stilted and confused. The Lakers have suddenly found themselves in a duel that could test their very being.

“There’s got to be a complete turnaround going into Game 2,” said James…

Maybe they’re a big team that isn’t flexible enough to overcome the Rockets’ small ball. Playoffs are all about matchups, and so far this season the Rockets have won both games against the Lakers with the disparate lineups…

“I think it’s the speed … they play with a lot of speed both offensively and defensively,” James said. “You can see it on film … but until you’re out there, you get a feel for it … that’s what we did tonight, we got a feel for their speed, and we’re fully aware of that going into Game 2.”