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Court Vision

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• Steve Blake and his wife, Kristen, pay $130 per month to sponor a young girl in Rwanda. The Blakes recently traveled to Rwanda to meet the girl and observe life there, and they told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times about their experience.

A very strange player-versus-coach saga is playing out in the WNBA, and I can’t imagine how much attention this would be getting in the NBA.

• A look at the locations from which Sacramento’s offense, a bottom-ten outfit last season, gets its shots.

• Matt Moore, writing at ProBasketballTalk, on the strange brew that is the Kings’ roster.

• Martell Webster is excited to join the Wizards, and told reporters this week not to pigeonhole him as a spot-up shooter — something the shooting-challenged Wizards desperately need (via Michael Lee of the Washington Post):

“I wouldn’t call myself a three-point specialist,” Webster said during a conference call. “I’m more of an all-around player, as far as that’s concerned.”

That kind of hunger is nice to see, provided it doesn’t lead to Webster overstepping his bounds within Washington’s offense. That’s always a tricky balance to strike.

• Tom Ziller at SB Nation is continuing his countdown of the top 50 free agents who might be available next summer, and with Nos. 11-20, he’s into some heavy hitters — including two high-profile guards coming off rookie contracts and two star Utah big man. Who’s ranked higher: Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson? Tom and I appear to disagree on this one.

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  • Published On 1:32pm, Aug 30, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Mark Cuban is upset that Jason Kidd pulled an about-face and bolted for the Knicks after — per Cuban — verbally agreeing to return to Dallas. Now he’s coming out against retiring Kidd’s number in Dallas:

    “Putting somebody up in the rafters, that’s something sacred in my mind,” Cuban said. “You don’t just do it just to do it, to have a big ceremony, to sell tickets. You haven’t seen me decide yet. I go back and forth on Derek Harper all the time, but Harp will be up there before J. Kidd will.

    “I’ve always said my prerequisite was that you played on a championship team for the Mavs. I’d say Jet’s got a shot, Dirk’s an obvious, but as of right now I wouldn’t put J. Kidd up there.”

    Kidd played six full seasons and two partial ones in Dallas, and he was a key player for the Mavs’ only title team. Still, at best, he was the fourth-most important player on that squad. His peak years obviously came elsewhere. There is no set standard for retiring numbers, and different franchises have handled the decisions differently. Some, including the Blazers, have retired numbers for guys who played roles roughly equivalent to Kidd’s on beloved title teams. But it’s not as if Kidd would be a lock for Dallas jersey retirement by any common standard.

    • Amar’e Stoudemire is (again) promising to play better defense, per the New York Post:

    “Defense is the key to win championships, that’s something I’m dedicated on also, to become a much, much better defensive player,” he said. “It’s going to happen. It’s a matter of preparation and practice and getting that chemistry down on that end of the court.”

    Stoudemire is one of the worst defensive players in the league among those receiving heavy minutes. His issues have always struck me as having less to do with effort, and more to do with things that are much tougher to correct: a poor understanding of angles, bad timing, difficulty fitting within schemes, shaky instincts, etc. But on top of those things, Stoudemire has a painfully upright stance that makes it difficult to move side-to-side; he looks very creaky on the floor. Is that due to a lack of effort — of failing to work diligently on a crouched defensive stance? Or is it a result of his aging knees?

    Read More…

  • Published On 3:26pm, Aug 21, 2012
  • Dwight Howard trade leaves array of questions for Lakers, Magic and more

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    Pau Gasol; Dwight Howard

    Now playing as teammates rather than opponents, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard need to learn to play off of each other rather than fighting for the same post position. (Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The Dwight Howard deal had such massive league-wide implications that it requires a follow-up to last Friday’s analysis. Some lingering questions:

    Do the Lakers start next season as title favorites?

    On paper, the foursome of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Howard alone would seem to make a Lakers-Heat Finals inevitable. The first three with Andrew Bynum looked pretty damn good, and in swapping Bynum for Howard, the Lakers have added a more natural pick-and-roll partner for Nash and the league’s best defender — a major detail for an aging team whose defense failed it down the stretch of last season. Heck, even Metta World Peace, the fifth wheel, has settled in as a league-average three-point shooter, and if he can provide only that single offensive skill along with above-average defense, he’ll fit well in this new context. The big-man bench of Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill and Earl Clark should be an upgrade over last season’s trio of Hill, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts, especially on defense via the Hill/Clark pairing.

    Wing depth stands as the potentially fatal issue against Oklahoma City and Miami, the returning Finals teams that thrive playing small-ball. But the Lakers’ “normal” lineup is now considerably faster than it was last season, when Denver nearly ran the plodding Lake Show out of the playoffs, and that means coach Mike Brown’s team might be better able to impose its own identity on the Thunder and/or Heat. And even with reserve point guard Eric Maynor back healthy next season, the Thunder’s best small-ball lineups might still play too small (with Maynor, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant) or be more guardable (with Thabo Sefolosha replacing Maynor). The Thunder still haven’t found a bigger wing (other than Durant) who plays both ends credibly, and Durant, for all his greatness, isn’t on James’ level yet as a defender. I’m not convinced that the Thunder are ready to have Durant guard Gasol for entire quarters or halves, even if they have tried it in stretches. Rookie Perry Jones might change this equation, but it’s too early to say.

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  • Published On 3:58pm, Aug 13, 2012
  • Mavs’ position in Dwight Howard derby

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    Dwight Howard

    Dwight Howard’s threat to leave for Dallas in free agency next summer is not as simple an option as the disgruntled Magic star seemingly believes. (AP)

    Dwight Howard met with Orlando Magic officials on Wednesday in Los Angeles and reiterated his desire to be traded as soon as possible. He added that if the Magic keep him or deal him anywhere but Brooklyn or the Lakers, he will simply sign with Dallas as a free agent, according to’s Chris Mannix, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM and several others.

    And then the world yawned, or vomited, or did whatever it does now when a “new” tidbit of Dwight Howard “news” trickles out. The story has been endless and ridiculous, and endlessly ridiculous, and Wednesday’s meeting fits nicely within that theme. Howard expressed his frustration over Orlando’s failure to deal him by now to the Lakers or the Nets, teams that have since used up cap space (Brooklyn) and useful trade assets (the Lakers) in moving on from the Howard drama without actually moving on. Both teams are still in the running for Howard if they wish to be, and if the Magic wish them to be; the Lakers still have center Andrew Bynum, and the Nets can trade center Brook Lopez as of Jan. 15, along with power forward Kris Humphries, who is overpaid on a short-term deal (two years, $24 million) precisely so that he is not too unpalatable in a trade package.

    According to Rudolph, Howard is also upset with Orlando’s lack of a clear rebuilding plan:

    Howard, however, was expecting an outline of how the team planned to improve and get back to a championship-contending level, something he didn’t receive during the hour-long meeting, according to sources.

    This is where the story gets laughable again. Howard opted in, at his choice and clear financial benefit, to a team with no cap flexibility this summer and no game-changing trade assets other than himself. The lack of flexibility is at the foot of Otis Smith, the team’s departed general manager, and an ownership group that signed off on cap-killing trades (Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu) and toxic mid-sized contracts to players whose production hasn’t met those deals — including at least one player, Glen Davis, reportedly acquired at Howard’s request. The Magic have no space to pursue free agents, and if Howard believes that the team’s new (and well-regarded) GM, Rob Hennigan, can just pick up the phone and spin these other pieces into championship-level help, perhaps he needs a summer internship in the front office to see how the NBA actually works.

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  • Published On 11:22am, Jul 26, 2012
  • Rockets gamble big for Dwight Howard

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    Luis Scola

    Despite averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, Luis Scola became the latest Rockets starter from last season to be sent packing this offseason. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)

    Houston’s use of the amnesty provision to release power forward Luis Scola, a beloved player both within the organization and among fans, marks the third above-average starter with whom the Rockets have happily parted for precisely zero assets that will help them win basketball games in 2012-13.

    Point guard Kyle Lowry, borderline All-Star, tenacious defender, hungry to continue his rise while playing under perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck contract in the NBA? Off to the Raptors, in exchange for a lottery pick.

    Goran Dragic, the man who stepped in as a starter for an injured Lowry in March and put up even better numbers? Gone to Phoenix as a free agent, with Houston unwilling to pay Dragic $34 million over four seasons — less than Boston will pay Jeff Green — without at least getting a team option in the fourth year.

    Scola, post-up trickster, elite hair-flopper and reliable gamer? Hit the amnesty wire, bro.

    (Also: Samuel Dalembert, useful starter on a cheap and partially guaranteed expiring deal, and the only center left on Houston’s roster? Boom — off to Milwaukee, in exchange for three young players who couldn’t get off the bench by the end of last season and a two-spot climb in the 2012 draft.)

    This is team-building taken almost to the level of an academic exercise, with Houston, in theory, having salary commitments to as many as 18 current NBA players at some point this weekend when the team’s offer sheets to restricted free agents Jeremy Lin of New York and Omer Asik of Chicago become official.

    The goal has been obvious, whether you’re reading the moves or general manager Daryl Morey’s public comments: acquire a star player.

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  • Published On 11:28am, Jul 13, 2012
  • Lakers will be fascinating to watch after breaking the bank for Steve Nash

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    Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant will join forces for the Lakers next season.

    Steve Nash will bring elite passing, shooting and ballhandling to the Lakers next season. (Harry How/Getty Images)

    Here are some things we know about the Lakers after their blockbuster heist of Steve Nash:

    • They will be fascinating to watch on offense. The Lakers have four mammoth stars, and regardless of who the fifth starter is and how awkwardly some parts might mesh, this should be a top-five offense from the minute it takes the floor. The Lakers were an inconsistent offensive team last season, but they took off after the Ramon Sessions deal (how’s that look now, by the way?) and finished a strong 10th overall in points per possession. A finish outside the top five next season would mean that either one of those four stars suffered a long-term injury or that the players and coaching staff suffered a near-complete failure in integrating the roster.

    It will be a challenge, though, especially as the Lakers compete against the league’s very best teams. The Lakers now have two stars, Nash and Pau Gasol, whose default mode on offense is to move quickly — fast dribbling (Nash), smart cuts, passes a step ahead of the defense and shots that come on the move (Nash) or immediately upon receiving a pass (Gasol). Those are generalizations, of course; Gasol is a gifted post-up player who can play the back-it-down game if needed. But these guys play with pace and movement, even if one of them (Nash) has the ball most of the time.

    Kobe Bryant and especially Andrew Bynum have tendencies to hold the ball, survey the defense and look for their own. That is not to say they are selfish. Bryant is a gifted passer, but many of his best passes come after holding on the wing for a full four or five seconds, drawing extra defensive attention and skipping the ball to an open man. But not all of those hold-hold-hold possessions result in smart passes. Many end in terrible shots: Bryant has inexplicably and inexcusably led the league in usage rate for two consecutive seasons, even as his shooting percentage reached its lowest point since he was a teenager last season.

    Bynum, too, has worked on his passing and has paired with Gasol to run a mean big/big pick-and-roll. But at heart, he is a back-to-the-basket-type player. He is not a pick-and-roll machine in the model of Dwight Howard or Tyson Chandler.

    But that’s precisely why this Lakers team will be so fun to watch: It would be hard for Nash to go to any system more different than the one he played in Phoenix for the last eight years. The Lakers finished 20 percent of their possessions via post-up plays last season, by far the highest percentage in the league, per Synergy Sports. Only Utah had a smaller percentage of its possessions end with the pick-and-roll ballhandler finishing the play by shooting, drawing a foul or turning the ball over. No team had a lower percentage of its possessions end with pick-and-rolls in which the roll man finished the play. No team devoted a smaller percentage of its possessions to transition chances, per Synergy.

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  • Published On 11:31am, Jul 05, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    The Bulls do not sound excited about the possibility of losing center Omer Asik to an unconventional three-year, $24 million offer sheet from the Rockets.

    • Heat owner Mickey Arison says that despite winning a title, the team lost money again this season.

    • Like all first-round picks entering the fourth year of a rookie contract, Stephen Curry is eligible for a four-year contract extension (or, in theory, a five-year extension if the Warriors make the guard their so-called “designated player” under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement). But the Warriors won’t enter into those talks until they know Curry’s troublesome right ankle can sustain a full NBA season. Seems like a prudent stance, right?

    • Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reports that the Pacers and point guard George Hill have agreed in principle on a five-year contract. Assuming the value of Hill’s deal is within reason, the Pacers should still have something like $7 million or so in cap space that they could use while center Roy Hibbert makes up his mind on the Trail Blazers’ max-level offer sheet. That doesn’t mean the Pacers will use this space, and to get it, they’d have to immediately renounce their rights to all other free agents, including guard Leandro Barbosa.

    •’s David Aldridge with a potentially key detail in the Nets’ new four-year, $40 million deal for Gerald Wallace:

    The Nets already have reached tentative agreement to retain free agent forward Gerald Wallace with a four-year, $40 million deal. Wallace, a source said, agreed to take less money in the first year of the deal than the $9.5 million he made last season to give Brooklyn more cap flexibility for additional deals.

    Every little bit of flexibility helps, just in case the Nets try to get themselves under the cap at some point after July 11 instead of staying over it via cap holds.

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  • Published On 4:19pm, Jul 02, 2012
  • Dwight Howard ripple effect in the NBA

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    Dwight Howard's decision to stay hurts the Nets' chances of keeping Deron Williams. (ABACAUSA.COM)

    After 48 hours of absurd theater, Dwight Howard has decided to stay with the Magic for the 2012-13 season, waiving the early termination option he could have used to enter free agency this summer, according to an exclusive late-night interview Howard gave RealGM’s Jarrod Rudolph. Howard’s decision, while a victory for the Magic, does not amount to a long-term commitment at this point. We could be revisiting the “Where is he going?” scenario off and on for the next year.

    Here’s a quick look at what this means for Howard, the Magic and other teams around the league: Read More…

  • Published On 12:41pm, Mar 15, 2012
  • A few intriguing Dwight Howard trade scenarios

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    A Dwight Howard-Chris Bosh tandem in Miami is a longshot. (Gary Bassing/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Before all of Wednesday’s craziness, with Dwight Howard reportedly willing to pick up his option for 2012-13 then not pick up his option for 2012-13, Chris Mannix, my colleague at, tweeted that some folks in the All-Star center’s camp indicated that he would have interest in signing long-term with the Heat or the Clippers.

    Howard is eligible for a starting salary of nearly $19 million next season on a new free-agent contract with a team other than the Magic, and neither the Clips nor the Heat will have anything like the kind of cap space necessary for that kind of deal. The Heat are totally capped out years into the future and will likely pay the luxury tax for at least the next four seasons. The Clippers can work their way to a middling bit of cap room if they use the amnesty provision on Mo Williams, but once you factor in charges for empty roster spots, you’re talking about $5 million to $6 million in cap room. Howard probably doesn’t want to go to the Clippers that badly.

    But in theory, it’s interesting to talk about whether the Clippers, Heat and a few other teams uninvolved in the Howard bidding should get themselves involved — assuming Howard’s flakiness and inability to commit on Wednesday didn’t deter teams from gambling on him. Howard is indisputably one of the league’s top-five players, its best big man and defender, and he just turned 26 a few months ago. He has already logged nearly 25,000 minutes between the playoffs and the regular-season, but there is not reason to expect any major drop-off in his level of play over the next half-dozen seasons. This is a transformational player, and transformational players are worth having out-of-the-box conversations about.

    To wit:


    It has been popular almost since “The Decision” to suggest that the Heat think about trading LeBron James to Orlando for Dwight Howard. James and Dwyane Wade have overlapping skill-sets, the theory goes, and the Heat would jump another level by trading one of them for a player that has no duplicate anywhere. The Heat don’t have a “true center,” and they compensate in part by over-rotating in order to protect the lane, a strategy that can leave perimeter shooters open — provided Miami’s opponent is smart, quick and savvy enough to thread swing passes through lanes the Heat close faster than anyone. LeBron has the salary necessary for an easy trade match, and the Magic could never do better than getting the very best basketball player in the world. Read More…

  • Published On 11:50pm, Mar 14, 2012
  • Dwight Howard saga reaches low point

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    Dwight Howard told Magic officials that he wants to finish the season with the team. (Damian Strohmeyer/SI)

    At least the trade deadline reached its nadir early, with 36 hours to go, because it won’t get much more ridiculous than this: Dwight Howard told reporters after Orlando’s stirring overtime win against Miami on Tuesday that he has informed Magic brass he’d prefer the team kindly keep him through this season and “roll the dice” on his own free agency. This is like playing Russian Roulette with a friend, only the friend loads the chamber, hands you the gun and ask you to play for his own entertainment. Click the trigger a few times, and maybe he’ll hang out with you again sometime.

    Here’s Howard:

    “I told them I want to finish this season out and give our team, give our fans some hope for the future. But I feel they have to roll the dice. It might be tough, but I feel we’ve got a great opportunity. But they’ve got to roll it.”

    Howard has asked the Magic to take on all the risk without promising any reward, and in doing so, he has opened himself to accusations that his real goal here is for New Jersey to sign him in free agency, without sacrificing assets (Brook Lopez, MarShon Brooks, first-round picks galore–including this year’s lottery pick) via a deadline deal or taking on Hedo Turkoglu’s contract.

    Perhaps Howard’s motives aren’t so sinister. He spoke Tuesday about the possibility of winning a title this season, an outcome that would make it very difficult for him to leave as a free agent. As good as the Magic are, a strong third-place in the East and fresh off wins over the two teams above them, all the metrics we have suggest a championship is a very unlikely outcome. Head-to-head matchups in the playoffs introduce a bit of a wild card that doesn’t exist in the macro picture, something the Grizzlies and Hawks reminded us last season, the latter in defeating a Magic team that was probably superior. But it’s hard to imagine this Magic team beating Chicago and Miami four times in seven games, and then doing the same against the Western Conference champion.

    The Magic cannot pin their hopes as a franchise on such a low probability outcome, and Howard should know better than to ask at this stage.

    Earlier Tuesday, both Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports and Ken Berger of reported that Howard wants to end up with New Jersey, and that the Nets’ dream scenario starts with signing Howard as a free agent. That dreamscape includes bringing back Deron Williams, re-signing Lopez, set to be a restricted free agent, and generally avoiding any deal with Orlando that might cost New Jersey any assets at all — or involve taking back  Turkoglu’s poison pill contract. As I outlined earlier, it would be impossible for New Jersey to sign Howard to a max-level contract, bring back Williams and retain matching rights on Lopez in restricted free agency. The Nets need to cut about $7 million from their 2012-13 salary bill to pull it off, and thus are engaging Charlotte in talks about swapping players with future guaranteed money (Jordan Farmar and others), along with a draft pick, for Boris Diaw’s expiring $9 million deal.

    And even if New Jersey gets only part of the way to that $7 million goal, Howard could also sign for less than the maximum for which he’s eligible. Both he and Williams would have to do exactly that in order to sign together in Dallas as free agents.

    Regardless, Howard’s comments Tuesday, at the very least, show a lack of empathy for his team. They will stain his legacy as one of the league’s greatest two-way stars and the centerpiece of a team that reached championship-level ability at its peak in 2008-09 and 2009-10. There is nothing wrong with Howard wanting to leave, as I have written many, many times. A team that drafts a star-level player essentially controls that player for at least a half-dozen seasons, often more; after putting in so much time, Howard and anyone else–LeBron James, Chris Bosh, whomever–is absolutely within his rights to chase money, titles, market exposure, or whatever else he might want. He’s within his rights to believe this Magic roster, situated in this Eastern Conference, is not good enough to win a title, though his affection for Glen Davis–and the long-term deal to which the Magic signed Davis–didn’t help in that regard.

    But to let a franchise twist like this for nearly a year is another thing. Howard, if you’ll recall, was either dishonest or wrong just 10 months ago when he incorrectly claimed the collective bargaining agreement did not allow him to sign an extension at that time with the Magic. He has since demanded a trade, convinced the Magic to grant him permission to talk with three teams–the Nets, Mavericks and Lakers–and now rescinded that trade demand as the trade deadline bears down upon a team on the verge of long-term irrelevancy. Enough is enough.

  • Published On 12:19am, Mar 14, 2012