At the juncture where sports and politics collide and somebody gets run over we currently find Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who has angered the world’s most populated totalitarian nation and riled the basketball universe by posting a since-deleted tweet about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
#roadkilldaryl is not yet trending on Twitter, but watch for it on Weibo.
Hey, whether you want to talk about politics/sports or the sports gambling angles surrounding the dynamic pairing of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, you cannot do one or the other without having to discuss Morey, who dealt two future No. 1 picks, two pick swaps and Chris Paul’s extraordinarily burdensome contract to Oklahoma City on July 11 for the former MVP.
Westbrook and Harden will make their debut alongside each other in Japan on Tuesday at 6 a.m. EDT.
It will be everyone’s first chance to see how Mike D’Antoni (pictured) will try to figure out how to please a pair of players who are both used to taking something in the neighborhood of 30 shots per game.
How the books view the Rockets
There are more skeptics than not when looking at the Rockets’ chances of winning the NBA championship, as evidenced by them being listed behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers to win the title. Houston is currently +800 at DraftKings Sportsbook and +950 at FanDuel Sportsbook.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia Sixers also have shorter odds, meaning bookmakers believe Morey’s team has the fifth-best chance of winning the title.
Sort of like where the Toronto Raptors stood a year ago, eh?
As noted in a recent column looking at MVP future bets, All-Star-caliber teammates can sometimes cancel each other out … and that will indeed be the case with Harden and Westbrook if the two of them both remain healthy. Westbrook was a DNP in Houston’s preseason opener against Shanghai.
According to Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic, Russell Westbrook is “looking very quick and his knees haven’t been an issue.” He has not played 5-on-5 basketball for the last three months due to his knee operation in May, but he reportedly moving closer to full medical clearance.
Harden is +700 and Westbrook is +1800 to win MVP at DraftKings, whereas FanDuel has Harden at +750 and Westbrook at a somewhat astonishing +2300 (fashionista hoopsheads who gamble will do a double-take on that one).
That’s more than twice as high as the odds on Nikola Jokic (+1100), making Westbrook the seventh most-likely to win the MVP. Also ahead of him are Giannis Antetokounmpo (+270), Steph Curry (+500), Anthony Davis (+750), Harden (+750), LeBron James (+750), Kawhi Leonard (+950), Joel Embiid (+1600) and Paul George (+1600).
The off-court distraction
Back to Morey, whose comments regarding Hong Kong and the ongoing protests in that Chinese quasi-state have caused a monumental crisis for the NBA, which has always been considered the most progressive of professional sports leagues in terms of racial and gender equality along with freedom of speech … even if it is political.
“We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
Harden spoke while standing with teammate Russell Westbrook at a practice in Tokyo on Monday, three days after Morey posted a now-deleted tweet that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”
The strong reactions to Morey’s tweet underscore Beijing’s sensitivity to foreign attitudes toward the ongoing Hong Kong protests that have lately grown into violence in the semiautonomous territory. China has accused foreign parties in the United States and elsewhere of encouraging the demonstrations.
As a result of the tweet, the Chinese Basketball Association — whose president is Yao Ming, the former Rockets center — said Sunday it was suspending its relationship with the team, and Chinese media giant Tencent and Chinese state television said they would no longer be broadcasting Rockets games.
Like sports gambling, there are some issues that players, coaches and executives are advised to steer clear of … even if they do not always comply.
This will probably all be long forgotten (OK, not by the Chinese government) by the time we reach the NBA Playoffs. Odds on the next NBA person to piss off the Chinese are not yet posted. Count on one of the offshores to have some fun with that one.