LAS VEGAS — The campus of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas was home to Team USA for the past two days. But the attention of those gathered here to watch some of the best NBA players compete in this year’s minicamp Friday was almost solely focused on the Houston Rockets.
First came the unexpected arrival of Carmelo Anthony. A stalwart of past Team USA squads, including a record three gold medals won at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Anthony is no longer part of the player pool. But that didn’t stop him from making a surprise appearance in the middle of Friday’s practice.
Sporting a white shirt, pink sweatpants and brown Jordan sneakers that appeared to be throwbacks to his days with the Denver Nuggets, Anthony took in the second half of practice sitting next to his now former teammate, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook. Then, after practice, Anthony took a second to chat with his future teammate, James Harden.
While Anthony didn’t take any questions, his future is no longer in doubt. Once his trade to the Atlanta Hawks becomes official after all players involved pass their physicals, he will be waived. When he clears waivers, he will sign a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal — worth $2.4 million — with the Rockets.
“We all know how easy Melo scores the basketball,” Harden said. “We just have to have conversations with him. That’s the most important thing. I think at this point, bringing in a talent like Melo or anybody that’s going to be a huge role in a championship-contending team, we have to have conversations. We have to talk things through. Things aren’t always going to be perfect but as long as you have that communication, good things will happen.”
The other piece of news involving the Rockets broke as practice was ending, when the final significant domino in free agency fell. Rockets restricted free agent center Clint Capela officially agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal to remain in Houston.
In a funny turn of events, The Post informed Harden of Capela’s extension before Rockets executive vice president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas — who also serves as the head scout for Team USA — could relay the information to him.
“Really?” Harden said with a big smile. “You’re breaking news to me!”
Harden regularly made it clear when asked about Capela last year how fond he is of the young center, who blossomed into a two-way force in the paint for the Rockets last season. At 23, there is still plenty of room for Capela to grow.
“I’ve got to call him, but I’m happy for him,” Harden said. “It’s an opportunity for him, obviously we love the game of basketball, but to be able to provide for your family for generations, that’s what we do it for. I’ve seen him work his butt off the last few years. He listens, he learns, and he goes out and competes. I’m happy for him.”
The final terms of the deal show just how much leverage the Rockets had over these proceedings. While it was initially reported as a five-year, $90 million pact, the amount of guaranteed money only amounts to $80 million, with no player option. Three incentives that run each year of the five-year deal — $1 million for helping the Rockets reach at least the Western Conference finals; $500,000 for having a 30 percent defensive rebounding rate, and $500,000 for hitting at least 65 percent of his free throws — could take the total amount up to $90 million
Capela undoubtedly entered the summer hoping to get something in the four years, $100 million range, along with fellow young centers Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams. No other team has anywhere near enough cap space at this point, though, forcing Capela to choose between signing his qualifying offer for a few million or signing a contract that would translate to generational wealth.
He chose the latter. And Houston, which already had luxury tax concerns, has to be thrilled. The Rockets now have a terrific young player locked up for the next five years at a more than reasonable number.
Lowry quiet on DeRozan trade
If Kyle Lowry is unhappy with Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri, he isn’t going to let anyone know.
After skipping out on speaking to reporters after Thursday’s practice, Lowry — the remaining half of Toronto’s all-star backcourt after the trade of DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard — decided to speak Friday. But his word were limited.
“It’s been a great week for USA Basketball, hanging out these guys,” Lowry said, when asked for his thoughts on the trade. “It’s been fun.”
That was about as much as he was willing to offer on any subject. Lowry uttered some variation of “It’s been a great week for USA Basketball” on five separate occasions, going nowhere near any questions about the deal, about Ujiri’s comments regarding how the team had plateaued with him and DeRozan leading it, or anything else about the summer.
He even said he “isn’t sure” if he has spoken to Leonard before, but did say that there is a “mutual respect” between the two.
The one clearly honest moment Lowry shared about the trade came when he was asked what it was like to hang out with DeRozan here this week.
“He’s my best friend,” Lowry said. “It’s always great to be around my best friend.”
Needless to say, Lowry is probably less than thrilled that his best friend was just traded away. But if that’s the case, he had no desire to tell anyone that.
So when will he let the world know what he thinks?
“When it’s time to,” he said. “When it’s time to be there, I’ll be ready to go to work and make my time to say everything, and things like that. But right now, this is about USA Basketball, and it’s been fantastic and refreshing and a fun week.”
Lowry provided one other revelation when he was asked why it was important for him to be participating with Team USA this week.
“I got a gold medal in Rio,” he said, referring to being part of the 2016 Olympic Team, “and our country, we’re going through some dire times, and we represent something bigger than our President. We represent the camaraderie and the togetherness of our country, and that’s why it’s big for us to be here.”
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