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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
  • Dwight Howard trade analysis

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    Dwight Howard is set to join the Lakers after eight seasons in Orlando. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

    It’s usually hyperbole to suggest that a single transaction has a ripple effect throughout the league, but Friday’s four-team, 12-player deal sending Dwight Howard to the Lakers touches just about every franchise in some way. Just a few examples from outside the four directly involved here:

    • The Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Hawks and any other team gearing up to either deal for Howard after Jan. 15 (Brooklyn), trade for him now (Houston) or chase him in free agency next summer (Houston, Dallas, Atlanta) has suffered a major loss. Houston and Dallas are both free to pursue Howard in any way they’d like, but the Lakers aren’t dealing him ahead of free agency, and Los Angeles will have the same home-court advantage in free agency — the ability to offer the 26-year-old center an extra year and larger raises on his contract — that helped the Nets lock up Deron Williams.

    • Chris Paul, a free agent in 2013, now has to think really hard about whether the Clippers have the goods as a franchise to justify his continuing presence after next season — even if the Lakers might have this insane four-man core of Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash only through 2013-14. (Deals for the soon-to-be 34-year-old Bryant and 32-year-old Gasol expire after that season.)

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  • Published On 12:01pm, Aug 10, 2012
  • Offseason has left number of potential contenders at risk of disappointment

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    Taj Gibson

    With Omer Asik now a member of the Rockets, Taj Gibson (above) likely will assume a bigger role in helping the Bulls defend the paint. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

    We covered free agency’s winners on Thursday, and next week, we’ll touch on the most intriguing team offseasons and teams that mostly stood pat. Today: the teams that have left us concerned.

    Chicago Bulls

    I covered the state of the Bulls last week after center Omer Asik’s departure for Houston, so I won’t belabor things too much here. The Bulls have replaced four bench players — Asik, swingman Kyle Korver and guards Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson — who would have been due about $17.6 million next season with five due a combined $8.5 million. Only one of those players, guard Kirk Hinrich, has a contract that runs beyond next season, but the $4.1 million that he will earn in 2013-14 jeopardizes Chicago’s ability to use the full mid-level exception again next offseason.

    Chicago now has about $71 million committed for 2013-14, factoring in the minimum $1 million guaranteed on shooting guard Richard Hamilton’s deal and power forward Taj Gibson’s cap hold. Gibson, of course, is even more critical now that Asik is gone, especially given that center Joakim Noah and/or power forward Carlos Boozer seems to suffer a 20-game injury every season. Gibson will be 28 next July, much older than a typical player coming off a rookie deal, but he’ll have suitors around the league and he’s firmly in Chicago’s core, especially if this team will seriously consider using the amnesty provision on Boozer at some point.

    The Bulls can shave $1 million off that $71.1 million number by dumping Hamilton between now and then, a move they’ll likely explore midseason if they’re sputtering because it would get them under the tax. But the league’s new rules prohibit teams from using the full mid-level exception and spending past a line $4 million above the tax threshold in the same season. If the Bulls bring back Gibson at market value, they’ll likely have to rely on the lesser mini mid-level exception to add a much-needed veteran piece. That’s a problem, particularly because Watson could have duplicated much of Hinrich’s production on a cheaper expiring deal. There would seem to have been a way to mix one or two holdovers with the new bench players, though that might have left the team a bit shallow and a tad more expensive.

    There are some serviceable bench players among Chicago’s new crew, but the Bulls would have taken a significant step back even if point guard Derrick Rose and small forward Luol Deng were healthy.

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  • Published On 2:18pm, Aug 03, 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 SI.com’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
  • For Nets, missing on Dwight Howard a setback amid strong offseason

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    Dwight Howard’s potential move to Brooklyn is on hold again. (Derick E. Hingle/US Presswire)

    Dwight Howard is a punch line now. In almost any conversation about the Magic center with sports fans, interviewers or even basketball writers, the first or second question will be some version of: Has Howard replaced LeBron James as the NBA’s villain? Or: Hasn’t Howard dealt with this even worse than James handled The Decision?

    And you can understand why. The situation has hit rock bottom at least a half-dozen times, culminating (for now) with Orlando’s announcement on Wednesday that trade talks with Brooklyn about Howard had stalled. They’re not dead, of course; they never will be until Howard is actually traded or signs a new contract with the Magic, the latter an outcome that still feels unthinkable given all that has happened.

    But the Nets have shifted their attention to re-signing power forward Kris Humphries and center Brook Lopez, who agreed to a four-year, $61 million contract on Wednesday. Under league rules, those two would-be sign-and-trade cogs in the blown-up Howard deal will be off the trade market for months (Humphries isn’t likely to be trade-eligible until Dec. 15 and Lopez won’t be until Jan. 15). If Humphries receives a big-money, multiyear deal, it will be even harder for the capped-out Nets to find a taker for him in any theoretical Howard trade during the season.

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  • Published On 7:58pm, Jul 11, 2012
  • How Nets could deal for Dwight Howard (UPDATED)

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    A Dwight Howard trade to Brooklyn would be complex. (Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)

    When evaluating the Nets’ agreement to acquire Joe Johnson on Monday, I wrote that Brooklyn could still try to restart trade talks with the Magic for Dwight Howard even though the deal with Atlanta — combined with the presumed re-signings of Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace — would make it difficult for the Nets to offer Orlando as much easy salary-cap relief as a few other suitors. But the Johnson/Wallace/Williams deals, none of which can be official until July 11, would not prohibit the Nets from pitching a sign-and-trade package built around center Brook Lopez, power forward Kris Humphries, shooting guard MarShon Brooks and multiple first-round picks.

    And sure enough, Brooklyn is pitching that exact offer, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard. The Magic are considering it, but according to both Ken Berger of CBSSports.com and Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Magic are rightfully “meh” on the Nets’ offer and working the phones to see if they might be able to find something better from a team with both cap space and young assets.

    And let’s be honest: That Nets offer stinks. The Magic are going to lose any Howard trade, of course. Howard is a transformational center on both ends of the floor, perhaps the league’s second- or third-best player when healthy and engaged. He’s coming off back surgery, which is a concern, but this is a once-a-decade sort of player who actually cares very much about defense. Howard alone props up a franchise. You lose automatically when you deal that kind of player.

    But you really lose when the return amounts to a center (Lopez) who has proved effective at only one end of the floor, an intriguing, young wing player (Brooks) whose ceiling doesn’t appear all that high and three first-round picks that would almost certainly be in the mid-20s, a place in the draft that brings an underwhelming average return. And this does not even consider that bringing in Lopez at something like $12 million per season would make it tough for Orlando to carve out game-changing cap space until the summer of 2014.

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  • Published On 11:33am, Jul 03, 2012
  • Dwight Howard to Rockets? No surprise Houston is looking to be aggressive

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    Point guard Kyle Lowry could be trade bait that Houston dangles to shake up its team. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

    The most important four words in any report on a potential draft-day or predraft trade are: “No deal is imminent.” Still, the Rockets, flush with draft picks and cap flexibility, are always active in their search for a superstar, and so there is little reason to be skeptical of ESPN.com’s report that Houston is shopping the No. 14 and No. 16 selections for higher lottery picks via the Raptors (No. 8) and Kings (No. 5) — with an eye on a potential shot at Dwight Howard.

    The steps here are complex and may involve Houston’s surrendering point guard Kyle Lowry, who has perhaps the best contract in the league. Lowry will make just $5.75 million next season and $6.2 million in 2013-14, and as if that wasn’t enough of a bargain for a very good starting point guard, only $1 million of that $6.2 million is guaranteed, according to ShamSports. The Rockets would be the first ones to tell you that Lowry’s contract ratchets up his value to a place far beyond where his prodigious basketball skills alone might take it.

    The prospect of dealing Lowry for the Kings’ No. 5 pick or the Raptors’ No. 8 pick alone seems dicey, even factoring in Goran Dragic’s stellar two-way play during Lowry’s absence due to injuries and a bacterial infection. Dragic is an unrestricted free agent, leaving no guarantees he’ll return to Houston, and on the flip side, the Rockets are open to the idea that he and Lowry might be able to work effectively together. (Lowry doesn’t agree, and he isn’t keen on playing for coach Kevin McHale anymore, either.) Those lineups didn’t have much of an impact either way this season, but the sample size is small (316 minutes), and this season wasn’t exactly conducive to that kind of chemistry development.

    (Just a reminder: Houston got Dragic and a first-round pick from Phoenix in exchange for Aaron Brooks. Ouch.)

    Nevertheless, dealing Lowry for a mid-level lottery pick isn’t necessarily a bad outcome if the team is confident in Dragic’s return; the average production of a No. 8 or even No. 5 pick is exponentially lower than that of No. 1 or No. 2, but the ceiling remains quite high. The Rockets as constituted aren’t title contenders, and Lowry makes obvious sense for a Raptors team in need of a point guard to succeed Jose Calderon. Toronto’s Jerryd Bayless is a free agent, and though he finished last season on a scoring spree, the long-term track record suggests that he is not the post-Calderon solution. Lowry is better than Calderon now, particularly on defense (it’s a landslide), and he comes cheaply.

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  • Published On 11:34am, Jun 25, 2012
  • Phil Jackson coming back to the NBA?

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    Phil Jackson won a record 11 titles as a head coach. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

    Sam Vincent, who played for four NBA teams and coached the Bobcats for the 2007-08 season, made waves recently when he questioned former Bulls teammate Michael Jordan’s work ethic as Charlotte owner. Phil Jackson was an assistant coach in Chicago when Vincent and Jordan played together from 1987-89, a curiosity (despite loads of relevant experience) hired mostly at the behest of Bulls general manager former longtime scout Jerry Krause, who had long found Jackson fascinating.

    Vincent has evidently worked those late 1980s Bulls connections again, this time in an effort to get Jackson to join the Magic’s front office, per this must-read from Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel. Vincent, an ex-Magic guard, told the newspaper that Jackson appeared to show at least some tepid interest until bowing out on Thursday, before the talks got serious enough for Jackson to meet with Orlando’s brass. Here are the details, via Schmitz:

    Vincent said Jackson gave him the impression that he doesn’t want to coach anymore. But the Magic scenario would have involved Jackson as either the team president/ general manager or in a consulting role — sort of like Pat Riley looking down from his office at Erik Spoelstra in Miami.

    Vincent said that Jackson, 66, was intrigued enough by the idea that Vincent and another intermediary were preparing to fly to Jackson’s home in Montana to speak with him. And, if the talks went well, they would next approach [Dwight] Howard.

    That intermediary with Vincent was a former all-star player and Hall of Famer who, in Vincent’s plan, was to be the next coach of the Magic. Jackson would help mentor him.

    The former player has never coached before, but surrounded by Jackson and a coaching staff including Vincent — former Charlotte Bobcats coach — and a couple of Jackson’s former Los Angeles Lakers assistant coaches — Frank Hamblen and Jim Cleamons — the hope was that he could learn on the fly.

    I’d love to divulge the name of the former all-star player and would-be coach, but he’s currently an employee of another NBA team.

    It’s tempting to sort the connections between Jackson and Vincent, and then go through the staff directories of every NBA team to find the likely suspects for the role of Mystery Magic Coach. But that kind of speculation is dangerous and generally not worth the time, given that the plan has already fallen apart.

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  • Published On 12:27pm, Jun 01, 2012
  • Deron Williams’ uncertain future puts Nets in fascinating spot

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    The Nets went 22-44 in Deron Williams’ first full season with the team. (Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported Wednesday on news involving Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, one (Williams) the top free agent in this summer’s class, and the other the key chess piece that could decide where Williams ends up.

    On Williams, Wojnarowski reported that the point guard will not re-sign with the Nets unless they deal for Howard. Williams’ stance reportedly will remain firm even in the event that the Nets win the draft lottery Wednesday night and pick first in the June 28 draft:

    “It’s Dwight Howard or bust,” said a league source who has spoken to Williams.

    This is good news for contenders with the cap space to sign Williams outright (provided he is willing take a few million less over the course of his next contract than Brooklyn could pay), a list basically limited to the Mavericks. It’s also good news for contenders better suited to sign-and-trade for Williams, a much longer list that could include the Lakers, Celtics and others.

    Wojnarowski reported that the Nets would use the No. 1 pick as a lure to land Howard. Such a scenario would be a huge win for the Magic, provided they are as convinced as everyone else around the league in Kentucky power forward Anthony Davis’ potential. Wojnarowski also echoed an earlier Chris Sheridan report in writing that Howard regrets committing to the Magic for 2012-13 and wishes to be traded.

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  • Published On 1:56pm, May 30, 2012


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