Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (July 18) -- Questions surface as Houston Rockets go on sale

Plus, the new Knicks front office regime steps in to handle Carmelo and more NBA news from around the league

This morning’s headlines:

Rockets sale sparks so many questions — It sent shock waves of surprise throughout the NBA, so it only figures that Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander’s stunning decision to sell the franchise he bought in 1993, in the midst of a busy Rockets offseason, would be a lot for the local media to handle in a single news cycle. That’s why Houston Chronicle columnist Brian T. Smith had more questions than answers the morning after:

Tilman Fertitta?

Some mysterious foreign investor with zero ties to the fourth-largest city in America?


Get ready for a show. And if Monday’s absolutely unexpected bombshell wasn’t shocking enough – Leslie Alexander suddenly putting the Rockets up for sale – the realization of what follows was almost as eerie and odd.

We’re still figuring out Jim Crane and getting used to the idea of praising the Astros’ winning owner.

We get frustrated at Bob McNair. But we ultimately know he’s the man who brought the NFL back to Houston, his Texans are the biggest thing in this sports-obsessed city and the community benefits from his 9-7 team.

Alexander? Alexander was cement solid. An annual certainty dating to 1993. The proof that Houston could actually win championships – back-to-back years, in fact – and capture international superstars during the era of super teams.

James Harden. Chris Paul. Dwight Howard. Charles Barkley. Scottie Pippen. Carmelo Anthony (?). None of those names is wrapped in Rockets red or even linked to this city’s NBA franchise without Alexander leading the charge.

And … now what?

Alexander was the driving force behind the Rockets hiring D’Antoni last summer and the antithesis of a hands-off owner. Mark Cuban is annoying. Paul Allen is spacey. Alexander nailed the part – and he never phoned it in.

Always present at home games. Barking at the media after D’Antoni became the new answer. Shocking TV cameras by leaving his courtside seat during a playoff game so he could whisper in the ear of a ref.

Worn down from caring too much and trying too hard? That does make sense.

Alexander obviously has every right to walk away when he wants – it’s his life and his team. But the timing couldn’t be odder and there won’t be any real certainty with the 2017-18 Rockets until a new owner is announced.

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‘No timeline’ for Melo’s exit from Knicks — There hasn’t exactly been a new mutual embrace between the New York Knicks and veteran forward Carmelo Anthony since the team’s front office shifted from Phil Jackson to Steve Mills and Scott Perry. For now, it’s more like a truce or a cease-fire, with Marc Berman of the New York Post writing about the prism through which any Anthony relocation might occur:

Mills wouldn’t say if he has set up a meeting with Anthony this week to brainstorm, but said he’s in “constant communication’’ with his camp and the Knicks star, who is pushing hard to be dealt to Houston.

During a Tarrytown press conference Monday to introduce Scott Perry as the new general manager and hail Mills’ promotion, the new Knicks braintrust signaled a trade of Anthony, the fading star, is not a certainty and said he could “easily be part of the team.”

The Post reported Mills and Perry want to talk with Anthony and see if he can expand his wish list. There was none of the tough rhetoric displayed by Jackson, who said repeatedly Anthony needs to be “somewhere else’’ as the Knicks look to rebuild.

“I’m not going to look back on what happened with Carmelo and Phil,’’ Mills said. “What I know is that I’ve been in communication with Carmelo and his team following the season. I think we will be a good developing team if Carmelo is part of the team. We’ll be a good developing team if he isn’t. We’ll be in constant communication with Carmelo and his camp, and we’ll come to some resolution that works well for both us.”

Mills added, “No, there’s no set timeline for this.’’

There also is no timetable to make the playoffs. The 45-minute press conference focused on the new vision of Mills-Perry.

Mills, who has final say but will give Perry “room” to make decisions, said the Knicks will “emphasize youth, athleticism, teamwork and defense.” There was no emphasis placed on snapping their four-year playoff drought next season nor mention of the deceased triangle

“We want to have a group of guys that continues to grow together, that at some point we can feel like we’re a championship-caliber team,’’ Mills said.

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China gave Marbury perspective on Knicks, self — The NBA shorthand on Stephon Marbury hasn’t changed: the immensely talented but deeply immature point guard is a textbook example of a player who “got paid” a few times over yet squandered opportunities to achieve the league’s highest individual and team honors. But Marbury’s late-career detour to China has influenced a man in midlife who has a little perspective on his travels and travails, as Wallace Matthews writes for

More than a decade after the words were written, Stephon Marbury can recall them, practically verbatim.

“The most reviled athlete ever in New York sports,’’ he says, with a laugh, quoting a New York City tabloid story from March 2006.

No doubt there are plenty of New Yorkers who read those words and still agree with them. But to paraphrase an old bit of folk wisdom, 1.37 billion Chinese might beg to differ.

Five years after he left the NBA, and the U.S.A., for a fresh start and what he hoped would be a new life, Marbury has found more than he ever could have imagined. In China.

The one-time poster boy for selfishness and bad behavior now speaks like a diplomat. Formerly reviled in print, he is now revered for his humanity and selflessness. Whatever venom is left in him is reserved only for Larry Brown, who presided over what Marbury called “the most miserable year of my life.’’ He has nothing bad to say about James Dolan, no snide remarks about the failure of Phil Jackson and recently even hugged Isiah Thomas, with whom he once reportedly exchanged punches on a Knicks team flight.

How, you may wonder, does such a transformation take place?

“Easy,’’ Marbury says, “You move to China.’’

On his third scotch in a midtown Manhattan restaurant the day before Marbury is to host an event at Coney Island, his old neighborhood, to promote something called the Urban Fitness League, one of several business ventures Marbury is involved with, to go with his apparel collection, his athletic shoe line, and his acting career, which so far includes a movie and musical based on his life. There is a postage stamp with his face on it.

And in 2015, he became one of just five foreign-born professional athletes to hold a Chinese green card, affording him permanent residence in his latest adopted home.

“China is the best,’’ he says. “Since I moved there my life has been amazing. The best time of my life. Not even close. I guess this was how it was all supposed to go down.’’

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Gay hits reset in heading to San Antonio — Veteran NBA forward Rudy Gay probably isn’t the first guy you’d think of as a piece to fit into the San Antonio Spurs’ puzzle. Teams in his past such as Memphis and Toronto appeared to thrive when he left more than when he arrived, and his reputation doesn’t boast the sort of defense Spurs players are expected to play. But coach Gregg Popovich has gotten mileage out of spare parts before, and Gay — rehabbing from a torn left Achilles tendon — sounded determined to make this work in a Q&A session with’s Michael C. Wright:

Wright: So, why opt out of $14.2 million to come to San Antonio as a free agent for a little more than half of that for the 2017-18 season?

Gay: Looking at my career, it’s just time to win. That’s what it’s mostly about. I’ve been in this league for a little while now, and I haven’t gotten out of my career what I wanted. Coming to a place like San Antonio, it just seemed perfect for me.

Wright: It has been proved over the course of your career that you can get buckets, but in your mind, how does that fit in with San Antonio’s style of play?

Gay: I’ve talked to [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich], and we’ve had a couple of conversations. My game is one thing. But when a team wants to sign you, and you sign with a team, they have their own vision for you. So obviously, I want to take my game to another level. And if anybody knows how to do that, it would be Gregg Popovich.

Wright: What’s that next level?

Gay: Who knows (laughs)? As you said: I’ve been known to get buckets, and I’ve had that stigma of just being a scorer. But I think there’s a lot more to my game. I think I can show that here in San Antonio.

Wright: You’ve been around a long time, and you talked about winning earlier. But when you’ve played this long, when does the winning start to overtake the financial aspect of all of this?

Gay: That’s the thing. When I got into the league, it was about winning first. There are a lot more what-ifs that come into play now. But always for me, winning has been the first thing. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to deal with losing. But I’ve always seen myself as a winner or a smart basketball player. The financial thing, I think winning comes first, and everything else will follow.

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Pierce officially exits as a Celtic — This was the way Paul Pierce wanted and deserved to go out, signing a contract with the team that drafted him solely to set it aside. Pierce was ready for it, the Boston Celtics were ready for it, and even team equipment manager John Connor was ready for it, according to Chris Forsberg of

Pierce, a 10-time NBA All-Star, spent the first 15 years of his career with Boston, winning a title in 2008. In announcing Pierce’s retirement, co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said Pierce’s No. 34 will soon hang in the rafters at TD Garden.

“We’re honored that Paul has chosen to retire as a Celtic. He is among the very best Celtics — a champion on and off the court,” Grousbeck said in a release. “We congratulate Paul on a Hall of Fame career, and look forward to seeing his number raised to the rafters of TD Garden.”

The Celtics tweeted shots of Pierce signing his contract in Danny Ainge’s office on Monday afternoon. They also showed Pierce suiting up in green practice gear and getting up shots at the team’s practice facility.

The Celtics noted that Pierce retires as the team’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals (1,823), free throws (6,434), and steals (1,583). He’s second only to John Havlicek in scoring with 24,021 career points.

Long-time Celtics equipment manager John Connor, who often engaged in epic post-practice shooting contests with Pierce, kept unworn pairs of Pierce’s signature Nikes on hand at both the team’s practice facility and at TD Garden, according to assistant general manager Mike Zarren. One set finally got put to use Monday as Pierce took up the team’s offer to get up one last batch of shots on the practice court. The Celtics posted a video of the 39-year-old Pierce making his familiar elbow jumper and also rising up for a one-handed jam. After the session, Pierce signed the shoes and gave them back to the team.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Knicks’ revamped front office isn’t’ hanging first-round draft pick Frank Ntilikina on the previous regime … So, seriously, who is Tilman Fertitta? And is he a serious bidder for the Houston franchise? … Indiana paid a heftier price (Kawhi Leonard) the last time it brought aboard a San Antonio-endorse point guard. Cory Joseph arrives with a smaller downside … Summer League was a different game altogether for the undrafted free agents scrambling in basketball’s job market … Is LeBron James frustrated with Cleveland’s lack of offseason pizzazz?