Paolo Banchero was almost a rocket, but everything worked out for Houston

Orlando Magic newcomer Paolo Banchero betrayed Yahoo’s Chris Haynes that he was expecting to join the Houston Rockets prior to the draft. “All that was released there was that I was going to Houston as No. 3,” Banchero said. “That was kind of my spirit, and I was okay with that. I would be happy wherever I ended up because I knew I would be fine at the end of the day. But in Houston, I’d say that’s where my head was back then.”

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 with them both on the west coast. I’ve played against them since sixth, seventh grade. I’m from Seattle and she’s from California, we’ve played a lot of tournaments and camps together. So yeah, they’ve definitely reached out.”

I wrote many times that I wanted Banchero and reached that point in the weeks leading up to the draft. And he certainly showed in the Summer League that he’s NBA-capable, demonstrating the passing and shot-producing ability that has made him such an enticing candidate. Rockets fans may always wonder what the combination of Banchero and Green might have been like someday — the fast breaks with Paolo picking up the pace, the dribbling handoffs on the half-court.

But I still maintain that Jabari Smith Jr.’s selection eases the roster build. He just goes with everything around him, much like Green. That kind of versatility gives a general manager options, which is critical as Houston expects another big lottery selection next summer and boatloads of cash below the cap to spend on the free hand.

Speaking of….

Would the prodigal son return?

Sixers guard James Harden against the Miami Heat during game six of the Eastern Conference second round playoffs on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Philadelphia.
Sixers guard James Harden against the Miami Heat during game six of the Eastern Conference second round playoffs on Thursday, May 12, 2022 in Philadelphia.Yong Kim/TNS

James Harden signed a two-year, $68.6 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. The deal includes a second-year player option that puts Harden in control of his destiny after the 2022-2023 season. In what was seen as a surprising turn of events, Harden took a significant pay cut after declining his $47.4 million player option for the upcoming season. That act of selflessness allowed the 76ers to sign old pals PJ Tucker and Danuel House to give Philadelphia a puncher chance in the near-impossible Eastern Conference.

Harden has said all the right things about his new home and his partnership with MVP candidate Joel Embiid. But what happens when that partnership heads towards the final Union for Harden in Brooklyn starring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? With John Wall’s contracts rolling off the books, the Rockets are expected to be capped at $70 million to upgrade their team. And Harden’s new deal conveniently includes a player option…


I know, I know. I wrote on the same page that I had no interest in Harden returning to Bayou City. “It’s time to move on,” I said. But I had a tear in my eye the other day imagining a veteran Harden stepping in as a point guard like Chris Paul did for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Phoenix Suns, and this young group of next-gen Rockets into that Play-In tournament led . I probably wouldn’t feel that way if the Rockets had drafted Banchero because I didn’t want to take the ball out of his hands. But with Smith, the fit is seamless. One can almost imagine Smith and Tari Eason wreaking havoc on the wings defensively, Green carrying the scoring charts, Alperen magicking Sengun at the post while Harden sits back and moderates in a way few others in NBA history can to have. Sigh.

Prepare yourself, reader. This is a story that I will be regularly reviewing for the upcoming season.

More Russ drama in Hollywood

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

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

Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Former Rocket Russell Westbrook has been back in the headlines in recent weeks, providing more fuel for the ongoing NBA gossip mill. Most recently, Westbrook split from his longtime agent (spurring the most bizarre farewell message in recent memory) and refused to pay homage to the king while he sat at court in the Summer League. Just another day in LaLa land.

New Lakers head coach Darvin Ham wants Westbrook to be the head of the line defensively and is putting up screens at the other end that move without the ball. It’s almost amazing how anyone would think that Russ, so late in his career, would change after he’s resisted for so long. Even with the Rockets, in his lone season — perhaps the most efficient of his career — it wasn’t so much that Russ started playing the ball, it was that he cut inefficient jump shots from his diet. It also helped that the Rockets overhauled their entire system to accommodate his presence, leaving their starting center and accepting small ball for the entire playoff push.

The latest trade news includes a staredown between the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets for a pack featuring Westbrook and Irving. For now, Lakers Brass are reportedly resisting calls to pick any of their future first-round draft picks, a position I think they’ll almost have to step out of once enough time has passed and camp is imminent. I mean they have to, right? I don’t want to bid against myself (the market for Irving is dry with not many other serious contenders), but the Lakers aren’t exactly acting from a position of strength. I’d be absolutely amazed if general manager Rob Pelinka left a first-round draft pick between himself and Irving during LeBron James’ season at age 38, the team’s only viable path to competition. They can’t win with Westbrook. You just can’t. We should know that by now.



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