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Jeremy Lin’s Big Test

Carl Fudge analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of Jeremy Lin and stresses the importance of the Rocket point guard getting out of the gate strong.

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Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley

For the third straight year, Jeremy Lin comes into a Rockets training camp with a different role to play

Houston Rocket training camps have been interesting times for Jeremy Lin. Cut from the team two years ago, the 25-year old point guard returned to Houston last season as a flashy free agent acquisition following his unprecedentedly “Linsane” performances in New York. Houston general manager Daryl Morey prized the resurgent Harvard grad away from the Knicks with an infamous poison pill contract as Lin looked set to install himself as Houston’s point guard of the future, team leader and global icon that had been missing since Yao Ming retired.

How things have changed.

As training camp sets to kick off this weekend, Lin finds himself starting alongside All-Stars James Harden and Dwight Howard in a powerful lineup that has legitimate championship aspirations. While Lin was front and center of the team’s marketing efforts last season, this year he has seemed a secondary figure, hardly being featured in the team’s marketing campaigns and not called upon to help recruit Dwight. While Lin was the unquestioned choice as the team’s starting point guard last season, legitimate questions exist about his role on the team this year. Make no mistake, this is a pivotal time in Jeremy Lin’s career as a Rocket.

Just how good was Lin in 2012-2013?

No player in recent memory has sparked as much debate as the Rockets’ #7. Given the amount of attention and analysis he has generated since his Linsanity days, it can be hard to understand the real story and – to borrow a phrase from Nate Silver – separate the signal from the noise.

Let’s start with some of the things Lin did well.

2012-2013 was Jeremy Lin’s first full season as a Houston Rocket and as a starting point guard. He started every single game of the regular season, logging the third highest amount of minutes on the roster and guiding the team to a winning record and playoff berth.

Lin’s averages last year – 13.4 points, 3 rebounds and 6.1 assists – were solid but perhaps a bit underwhelming to fans who had hoped for Linsanity numbers and didn’t factor in his lower usage rate on the Rockets (20.7%) compared to his time on the Knicks (28%). While some fans questioned Lin’s performance, Morey clearly laid out why he was happy with his point guard’s debut season during an interview on CBS Sports Radio 610 back in May, saying:

Jeremy had a great year. The only way to think about Jeremy maybe not having a great year would be to say he had to play the whole year like he did in New York. James and Omer generated the most wins for our team but Jeremy Lin was third and on a 45-win team to make the playoffs and be the starter, he had a great season.

He’s the fifth-best pick and roll player in the league on nine pick and rolls a game. Overall, he really helped our offense, set up his teammates very well. On defense people focus a little bit too much on Tony Parker maybe did well against him, or some of these super fast guards, but the reality is those players do really well against everybody. On average, Jeremy had a very good defensive year, he’s very good at 50-50 balls, he’s very good at distributing the ball, and one of the top players in blocked shots and steals. So, overall, he had an extremely good year and we’re nowhere near the playoffs without Jeremy Lin.

Morey’s analysis, as always, is backed up by the numbers. Jeremy Lin was indeed the 5th best NBA pick-and-roll point guard in terms of points created for the roll man, setting up Rocket screeners nicely as they cut to the basket. This stat is even more impressive considering the somewhat limited offensive skillset of the recipient of most of those passes, Omer Asik. As I laid out in my last piece, the pick-and-roll is a fundamental part of the Rockets’ offense, and with Dwight Howard now on the floor, Lin and the Rockets will only become more dangerous in this facet of the game.

Lin was a good distributor of the ball in other parts of the offense last season too, dishing out 497 total assists (15th best in the NBA) at 6.1 assists per game (20th best). The majority of Lin’s assists led to dunks, close shots and three-pointers, showing both his ability to set teammates up for high quality shots that fit the game plan and his competence in running the fast break.

As a creator of his own offense, his performance dipped compared to his hot streak on the Knicks — Jeremy’s points per possession in isolations went down from 1.02 to 0.68. However, one thing that stood out was his ability to draw fouls while in the act of shooting. He finished 12th among point guards in And1% (And1s/FGA), and 17th in free throw rate (FTA/FGA), putting him above the likes of Kyrie Irving in both categories.

Lin was effective defensively too, and is probably a bit underrated in that part of the game. While he seemed to struggle staying in front of some of the quicker guards, Lin still contributed 1.6 steals per game (11th best among PGs in the NBA), 0.35 blocks per game (also 11th best), and took 0.27 charges per game (12th best among PGs). When you combine the previous 3 stats into a jumbo defensive rating, Lin was the 9th best defensive PG in the NBA.

Jeremy Lin's Strengths and Weaknesses

Taking a look at the strengths and weaknesses of Jeremy Lin

Three-point shooting, turnovers, mental toughness have been concerns

Despite Morey’s faith in Lin, critics do have a point to make. While the Rockets’ biggest positional disadvantage last year was power forward, the point guard position wasn’t far behind. Compared to their opponents, the Rockets had a PER (Player Efficiency Rating) deficit of 2.1 every night at the point guard spot, scoring two less points, delivering one less assist and committing one more personal foul.

One thing that has rightly caused concern among Rockets fans is Lin’s shooting percentages. The Rockets’ uptempo offense is designed to create a lot of open three-point shots, especially from the wings; last year the team took 2,371 shots from beyond the arc and made 867, the second highest total in NBA history by a team in one season. Three-pointers will be even more key this year with Howard and Harden certain to attract their fair share of double teams, leading to open shots on the perimeter.

Last year Lin took 257 three-pointers – over 10% of the team’s shots from that distance – and made 87 of them, good for a 33.9% average. That level of efficiency puts Lin outside the top 100 best three-point shooters in the league and well below the better three-point shooting point guards in the NBA, such as Jose Calderon (46.1%), Steve Nash (43.8%), Mario Chalmers (40.9%), Jarrett Jack (40.4%), and Irving (39.1%).

There’s no disguising Lin’s shooting numbers, but glimmers of light do exist. Lin shot about 5% higher from three-point land at home than he did away. His numbers from downtown (39.3%) in the final 34 games of the regular season were much better than his early season efficiency. And lastly, his most effective shots came from spot-ups, exactly the shots he’ll see more of with Dwight on the floor. With more experience in the league’s different arenas, less defensive attention on him and lots of offseason practice, it is fair to expect him to convert his treys this season at a much higher clip.

Turnovers were also a concern. His assist-to-turnover rate was a Jrue Holiday-esque 2.13, putting him outside the top 30 PGs in the league. Adding to that was his turnover ratio (% of possessions that resulted in a turnover), which at 13.3% was the fourth highest in the league. Lin’s turnovers were caused more by bad passing (131) than by bad ball handling (89) and that number probably suffers a bit due to the fast pace the Rockets employ. With that said, Lin coughed up the ball as much in pick-and-roll situations (20.9% of these possessions led to a turnover) as he did in transition (21.1% of his transitions led to a turnover), suggesting a need for better decision making with the ball and playing more under control.

A final concern exists around Lin’s mental makeup. By his own admission, he struggled with this facet of his game last year. Describing the challenges he faced last season as a Rocket and his mentality moving forward, Lin said:

“I’m just going out there to play and not worry about anything: about proving myself to anybody, or proving my worth, or trying to live up to a contract, or whatever. I’m just going to go out there and play completely free of all the expectations and all the noise, the pressure. With the signing of Dwight and the emergence of James, there’s going to be a lot more spotlight, but for me it’s just a matter of going in everyday and doing my best. I’m just going to play the way that got me here.”

Will below average be good enough?

While there is no glaring hole in Lin’s game, he also doesn’t have an elite skill either. He’s an above average passer and defender that runs the pick-and-roll well, but he’s a below average shooter, ball handler and creator of his own offense. When you add it all up and stack him up against a league that’s full of quality point guards, you get a player whose PER output (14.9) is below average for his position (16.2) and puts him just outside the league’s top 30 playmakers. While the PER stat isn’t loved by all, other advanced stats tell a similar story: he didn’t make the top 15 of a recent WARP-based projection of the NBA’s top point guards and he ranks 27th among point guards in both Value Added and Estimated Wins Added. Championship-winning teams do not have to be elite at every position, but with only two All-Stars, the Rockets need to squeeze every drop of performance out of their point guard spot if they are serious about contention.

What could happen if Lin has a slow start

Lin is the clear starter, but if he returns to his past struggles from the three-point line, commits too many turnovers or fails to gel with Dwight, it could lead to him being replaced in the starting lineup in favor of Patrick Beverley, who played well last year as Lin’s backup. Though Beverley’s minutes constitute a smaller sample size (710 minutes), the Rockets as a team posted a 98.8 Defensive Rating when he was on the floor (compared to 104.0 with Lin), a ranking that would be good enough to be third best defense in the league. To add to that, there was almost no dip offensively (106.4 Offensive Rating with Lin on the floor, 106.1 with Beverley).

While it is not plan “A”, it is possible that the Rockets could be more dangerous with Lin on the bench than when he starts. In Asik and Lin, the Rockets could deploy two starting-quality players against other teams’ second string lineups, a configuration that would allow Lin to be a #1 offensive option. Lin has played well in that role in the past with the Knicks in 2011-2012 and in bursts last year, with his breakout 38-point night coming against the Spurs when Harden was out with an injury.

The Rockets won’t rush any decision. They understand the value of lineup stability and will want to collect a reasonable sample size of data to analyze both his and Beverley’s play before deciding that a change is needed. Suggestions in the recent ESPN Insider piece that Coach McHale might change his lineup based on training camp and preseason were probably a bit aggressive. The theory I have heard from an NBA source is that the Rockets will give the new Dwight-led lineup 20 games to gel before making a move of this magnitude.

Of course, coming off the bench was not what Lin had in mind when he signed his $25M contract last year, but with Howard and Harden now in the fold, the bar of expectations has been raised and the need for the right fit has increased. If he takes a step forward and proves to have addressed some of his weaknesses, he can cement his role as the starting point guard on a contending team.

Now we see if he’s ready for that new challenge, because for the scholarly Lin, the first 20 games of the 2013-2014 NBA season will be the biggest exam he has ever taken.

 

Carl Fudge is a second year MBA at MIT Sloan where he is the content lead for the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. He is a lifelong Rockets fan and has been posting on ClutchFans as GBRocket since 2003.

Houston Rockets

Podcast: Houston Rockets options with the #3 pick of the 2024 NBA Draft

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Houston Rockets 2024 NBA Draft prospects Zaccharie Risacher Stephon Castle Reed Sheppard Donovan Clingan

The offseason is now underway.

The forecast looks good for the Houston Rockets, but… there’s pressure as well this offseason because there are a handful of other West teams that might have rosier futures. Ime Udoka wants to win and win big. As we are about five weeks away from the NBA Draft, what are the Rockets looking to do this summer?

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Rockets shockingly landing the #3 pick and their options in this draft, including Reed Sheppard, Donovan Clingan, Zaccharie Risacher, Stephon Castle, Matas Buzelis and others. They also discuss the possibility of some big game hunting in Houston.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Podcast: Steven Adams, Mikal Bridges and Trade Possibilities for the Rockets

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Houston Rockets Trade Deadline 2024

The Houston Rockets already made one deal, acquiring center Steven Adams from Memphis for a handful of second-round picks, but we still have several days left before this Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline.

Are more deals on the way?

Rumors of interest in Mikal Bridges have swirled, with the Rockets holding precious (and unprotected) first-round picks from Brooklyn. They also could use some help inside this season, which Adams can not provide. Shooting is always in demand.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Adams trade, its impact on the Rockets in 2024-25 and beyond, the Mikal Bridges rumors, the Brooklyn picks, other trade possibilities and options for Rafael Stone moving forward. Also discussed is the play of Houston’s core 6 prospects: Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and Jalen Green.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Rockets trade for center Steven Adams

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Steven Adams Houston Rockets

The Rockets made a surprise trade on Thursday, sending the contract of Victor Oladipo and three second-round picks to Memphis for center Steven Adams.

The deal came together quickly and the Rockets had a small window to get it done, hence why this trade was made with a week to go until the trade deadline.

The Price

When you consider that Memphis did this for cost savings primarily and that Adams would not play for any team in the league this season, the price seemed a little high to me. The Rockets gave up the OKC second-round pick this year, which is no big loss, but they also give up the better of Brooklyn’s or Golden State’s second-round pick this season. That’s a pretty good pick (likely in the late 30’s). They also give up the better of Houston’s or OKC’s second-round pick in 2025. If things go as planned for the Rockets, that pick should be in the 45-55 range.

But they didn’t sacrifice a first-round pick, which would have been brutal, and they were not going to use all those seconds this season. So it’s just a matter of opportunity cost — who else could they have gotten for this package?

My understanding is they (particularly Ime Udoka) are very high on Adams.

The Rockets also did this move for cap purposes as well. By moving out the Oladipo contract, which was expiring, and bringing in Adams’ deal, which is signed for $12.4M next season, the window for the Rockets to put together a trade package for a star player is extended out until the 2025 trade deadline. They continue to wait to see which players, if any, shake loose here and become available. They want flexible (see: expiring) contracts that they can combine with assets and this gives them another year to be in that position.

The Trade

It’s not often that the Rockets acquire a player I had not considered beforehand but that’s the case with Steven Adams. The Rockets sorely need a big with size that provides more traditional center strengths, making Clint Capela, Robert Williams, Nick Richards or Daniel Gafford potential candidates, but Adams was overlooked for a few reasons.

First, the 30-year old big man is out for the season after knee surgery cost him the entire 2023-24 campaign, so the Rockets won’t get any benefit from this trade this season. Secondly, Adams is not your traditional center either when it comes to rim protection.

But what Adams does do, he’s really good at and he has some of the same strengths of Brook Lopez, who the Rockets tried to sign in the offseason. Adams is quite possibly the strongest guy in the league and a legitimate 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He’s an outstanding screen-setter, something that could really benefit the likes of Fred VanVleet, Amen Thompson and Jalen Green. He was also an elite rebounder last season, finishing 6th in the league in caroms at 11.5 a game despite playing just 27.0 minutes a contest.

After watching Jonas Valanciunas absolutely bully the Rockets inside on Wednesday, it should be apparent by now to everyone that this was a pretty big need.

In 2021-22, the Memphis Grizzlies finished #2 in the West at 56-26. Their top two players in Net Rating that season were Dillon Brooks (+11.0) and Adams (+8.3), key cogs in a defense that held opponents to 108.6 points per 100 possessions. They’re both now Houston Rockets.

So this adds another trusted vet to Ime Udoka’s rotation.

The question is will the 30-year old Adams return to form after the knee injury? Adams sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a year ago, which cost him the end of that season and the playoffs. He tried rehabbing it and it never got better, so surgery became the option just as this season was kicking off.

I like to think the Rockets did their due diligence on that, despite the short time it took for this deal to come together, but that’s unclear.

If he does bounce back, then Udoka has a big man he can turn to reliably in situational matchups or on nights when the younger bigs struggle. He wouldn’t be Boban or even Jock Landale in that scenario — he’s going to play, so the frontcourt depth in 2024-25 should be better. In the end, they got a starting-caliber center who will have no problems coming off the bench, and that’s what they were looking for.

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On the KPJ trade and future of the Rockets

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The Houston Rockets are back to being a professional NBA team once again.

The Rockets finally ended the Kevin Porter Jr. era on Tuesday, coughing up two second-round picks in order to unload his contract to the Oklahoma City Thunder, getting back the contract of Victor Oladipo and third-year forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The move puts an end to a long investment and very rocky tenure with KPJ.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Porter Jr. Experiment, the price paid to move him, Houston’s potential trade options moving forward, the new culture and the current state of the Rockets young core.

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Heavy investment in Kevin Porter Jr raises serious questions about Rockets front office

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Kevin Porter Jr. Rafael Stone

Soon-to-be-ex Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, resulting in a fractured neck vertebra and a deep gash above her right eye after an attack at a hotel in New York. He allegedly woke her up by punching her repeatedly, strangled her and did not stop hitting her until she ran out of the hotel room screaming for help and covered in blood.

“This is a serious domestic violence case,” said assistant Manhattan district attorney Mirah Curzer.

First and foremost, I wish the victim healing. I don’t know what to say about the nightmare she went through. She and her family will forever be impacted. As for KPJ, if this is true, he doesn’t belong on the Rockets or in the NBA at all. He belongs in jail.

Secondly, this can’t be overlooked and just swept under the rug: Why did the Houston Rockets bank on and invest so heavily in this guy?

Kevin Porter Jr. being accused of crimes of this severity should not be shocking – at all. Before he even came to the Rockets, he had a long list of serious problems. He was suspended multiple times in high school. In 2019, he had a “conduct issue” significant enough that USC suspended the 5-star recruit indefinitely. He fell to the end of the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft because of his behavior liability. He was accused of punching a woman in the face in Cleveland. He also had a gun and marijuana charge later dismissed after getting into a car crash. He went into a tirade and got into a nasty confrontation with both the Cleveland coach and GM, resulting in the Cavs severing ties immediately and dumping him to the Rockets for nothing.

You could make the argument that initially giving Porter Jr. a second chance in Houston was praiseworthy, but the Rockets experienced KPJ’s anger management and immaturity issues firsthand on several occasions.

Former Rocket Austin Rivers said this week that this isn’t the first, second or even seventh issue with Porter Jr. and that Rockets “higher-ups” confided in him that they had no idea how to handle him.

“I remember talking to guys in the Houston Rockets organization, higher-ups, [and] they were having issues then,” said Rivers. “They were like, ‘We don’t know what to do with him.’ And that’s when he just got there from Cleveland!”

Porter Jr. was routinely a nightmare for Rockets coaches to deal with. On several occasions, he confronted and cussed out members of the coaching staff, saying they didn’t have the “credentials”, per source, a reference to the fact that him playing heavy minutes at point guard was a decision they did not control.

Once at a night out, Porter Jr. had a disagreement with a DJ over music choice and he snapped, smashing the DJ’s laptop to the floor. He needed to be restrained and removed. Rockets personnel and several of Porter’s teammates witnessed the incident.

Curzer also dropped a bombshell at the arraignment in saying that Porter Jr. has a history of abusing his girlfriend, who he had only been dating since early last year, his second season with the Rockets. Curzer specifically cited an incident in which KPJ allegedly rammed his car into hers.

There were dozens of maturity issues visible on the court to anyone paying attention. He refused to check out of games. He got into an argument on the bench with assistant Lionel Hollins. On numerous occasions, he would visibly shut down when he wasn’t passed the ball. I invite you to watch this video from a game against Memphis on March 20, 2022. Just listen to the Grizzlies broadcasters, particularly starting at the 1:40 mark, talk about what they are witnessing here:



Privately, people around the league would say they were baffled by the Rockets continued fascination with Porter Jr. Nobody could understand it.

That fascination starts with Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who by every account over the last two years was the driving force behind the investment in Porter Jr. It has been no secret. Trading for him in January 2021 was seen by some with the team as his “Harden acquisition”, code for a signature move that makes an executive’s career, much in the way landing James Harden did for Daryl Morey in 2012.

For example, former Rockets head coach Stephen Silas never considered Porter Jr. to be a point guard, per sources — playing him there was a Stone mandate because the GM believed that is where his future lied.

John Wall also told us as much publicly when he explained the phone call he got from Silas about coming off the bench. He said Silas told him “This is what the GM wants,” adding again that Silas said, “Man, you don’t deserve that. You should be the starter. This is just what they want to do.” Wall was upset because he believed KPJ should have to earn the spot.

“I have a hard time finding anybody outside of the Rockets front office that believes that Kevin Porter Jr. is a starting point guard in the NBA,” said ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon in December.

There were plenty of warning signs about KPJ to the public too.

After Porter Jr. got into a heated argument in which KPJ “physically shoved” Rockets assistant coach John Lucas and quit on the team in the middle of a game against Denver in January of 2022, leaving the arena at halftime, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix famously wrote that the Rockets should “Cut Porter Jr. Waive him. Release him. Whatever. Eat what’s left of the $1.8 million he’s owed this season and the $3.2 million he’s got next and move on.” It became a source of mockery for Porter Jr’s fans, a line they would bring up after each game he hit a few threes or handed out some assists.

In February of this year, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, one of the most connected reporters in the league, flat out warned us that he was hearing awful things about the Rockets culture and locker room. He was blunt in what the Rockets needed to do — waive Kevin Porter Jr. outright and bring in a new coach and GM.

“Just cut him. That’s it,” said Givony of Porter Jr. “And you’re sending a signal to the league that we’re going to do things differently from here on out.”

“When you talk to people around the NBA about Houston, you just don’t hear good things about their culture, about that locker room. You talk to people that are on that team, and they are like, ‘We are a mess’,” said Givony. “Do people want to work with this organization? But you can change that fairly quickly if you come in, get rid of the bad apples and you change the coaching staff, and all of a sudden, you’re Houston. It’s the third-biggest city in America. There’s a history here of you actually being good.”

Porter came to the Rockets for “free” (in exchange for a top-55 protected second-round pick, which was designed not to convey), but he proved far from it as the Rockets continued to pour investment into him. Over the last 2-3 seasons, no Rockets player got more developmental capital than Porter Jr. – not Jalen Green, not Alperen Sengun, not Jabari Smith Jr. The Fertittas paid John Wall $85+ million over two years to sit at home so the team could groom Porter Jr. to be their future point guard.

Then they doubled down. With restricted free agency on the horizon and a seemingly non-existent market for KPJ’s services, the Rockets gave Porter Jr. an extension a year sooner – a contract that was presented as a four-year, $82.5 million deal. The deal was more team-friendly than that, putting team options in it after years 1 and 3. Going from the potential disaster that was initially reported to a deal they could escape after one season felt like a “win”, but the biggest question was why they wanted him long-term at all. The unprecedented nature of a contract that size with that kind of club control clearly showed the Rockets knew there was unique and significant risk here.

After KPJ signed the extension, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko summarized the Rockets view of Porter Jr. – “As has been [their] stance for months, the Rockets have maintained the notion that Porter is a priority and is considered a huge part of their core, along with Green and Jabari Smith Jr.”

The Rockets actions to kick off the 2022-23 season showed exactly that – that he was a priority. They benched Sengun to start the season, in large part to give KPJ a “lob threat” and defender in the starting lineup. They gave him the superstar “Harden Locker”. They introduced him last in the starting lineups. They treated him as the star and empowered him to be the self-proclaimed “Head Honcho” of Clutch City.

But the extension proved unwise and foolish. Porter Jr. never even made it to the first year of it. With over $80 million on the line, he snapped again. The Rockets signed him to one of the team-friendliest deals ever and still managed to both overcommit and overpay as Stone now scrambles to attach real assets to it to get another team to take it off his books.

Is it fair to question the judgment of the Rockets front office? Absolutely and without question. Whether you look at their ability to value character, evaluate risk, scout basketball, build culture, manage assets or allocate development resources, they failed at every level here. Why didn’t they act sooner? Why did they double down? Why didn’t they hold him accountable? Why did everybody in the league see it but them?

“We value the player and the person that [Kevin Porter Jr.] is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Stone after rewarding him with the extension less than a year ago.

The question you have to ask yourself now is, with all they knew and witnessed about Porter Jr. both on and off the court — why were they eager at all?

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