Hey, give the Houston Rockets some credit for effort, anyway.
While most of the NBA builds for the 2019-20 season, the Rockets acquired Chris Paul from the Los Angeles Clippers — may they rest in pieces. Great. The Rockets need only two more All-Stars to catch the Champs now.
Paul will join James Harden in an All-Star backcourt. As the primary ballhandler, Paul will take some of the burden off his sidekick, who logged too many minutes last season.
The Rockets were dog-breath when Harden was out of the game last season. Paul gives them an elite floor leader in those situations. He also provides a second option late in games. Now Harden is less likely to quit on his team like he did last postseason.
Here’s the rub: Paul excels in a more calculated, slow-down game, while coach Mike D’Antoni likes to play fast, faster and fastest. At 32, Paul hasn’t gotten any younger lately.
Harden and Paul also like to have the ball in their hands. A lot. Last season Harden had it 8.9 minutes per game, more than anyone in the league. Paul (7.2) wasn’t far behind.
Can CP3 and The Beard co-exist at no loss in productivity? We shall see.
Meanwhile, the trade of Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams leaves the Rockets without their best defender and sixth man, respectively. They’re also Crystal Renn thin up front. If the Warriors were to sign free agent big Nene Hilario away from them — he played for less than $3 million last season — they would blow the Rockets out of the water.
But, hey, thanks for playing, Houston.
REST OF THE STORY: The guy the Rockets really need is a Kevin Durant-stopper such All-Star wingman Paul George, but they’re up against the salary cap. Good luck with that.
So forget the Western Conference jamokes. The team to watch is the Cleveland Cavaliers for two reasons: 1) They’ll have LeBron James for at least one more season, and 2) because they may not have him for longer, there’s a great sense of urgency to get better and do it immediately.
If George heads to Cleveland, then we’ve got a debate.
SAY IT’S NO, JOE: The NHL free agent period begins on Saturday, so there’s plenty of time for Joe Thornton to snooker the Sharks out of a thee-year contract.
At 37, Thornton has minimal value outside of sentiment. Doesn’t shoot. Doesn’t score. Doesn’t hit. Take him off the power play and what’s left except one of the best beards in hockey? Plus, he’s only weeks removed from ACL and MCL surgeries.
Thornton would have a salary cap hit in the $6 million neighborhood. Better to spend the money on contract extensions for Martin Jones and Marc Edourd-Vlasic and move on to the future.
2020 VISION: Did you know the average major-league umpire calls about one out of every eight pitches incorrectly? That’s about 3,000 blown calls per team every season, for those of you snoring at home.
So rumors that a pitch clock and even an electronic plate umpire could make their debuts no later than the 2020 season is the best news that Balls has heard all season. If MLB didn’t move slower than Pablo Sandoval, it would have been done years ago.
Sure, the umpires association will put up a stink that machines shouldn’t replace trained human beings. But MLB should consider almost anything to speed up those three-plus-hour taffy pulls that only die-hard seamheads don’t seem to mind. Besides, the men in blue would still be needed to butcher, uh, call plays on the bases and at the plate.
Better yet, electronic umps would make for far fewer arguments and far better game flow. No longer would the batter/pitcher/manager have an excuse to step out of the box/off the rubber/out of the dugout to question a call or worse and waste more time.
The sooner, the better.
HEY, LOOK … The Giants won three games in a row to move within 22.5 games of first place!
JUST SAYIN’: The best Russell Westbrook stat of last season — the alleged Most Valuable Player attempted 408 more field goals than Harden to score 202 more points.
YOUR TURN: “The Warriors are No. 4 of all time right now. My reasons are ownership-management excellence, coach Steve Kerr, unselfish team play, focus and execution on defense, the best fans in the NBA and the way Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have changed the game with their perimeter shooting. Win a few more championships with this core group and we hang with the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers!” Steve Benjamin, San Francisco
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