Should the Lakers trade Dwight Howard?
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Well, it was another loss for the Lakers Sunday night, this time to a Denver team on the road playing a back to back while the Lakers had been off. Dwight Howard had a monster 26 rebounds, but for the third time in the last five games he had seven shots or fewer. You watch Lakers’ games now and go long periods without even hearing his name mentioned. What may well be happening is Howard is realizing his first instincts were right. He didn’t want to go where he’d be the fifth best center in franchise history and standing around watching Kobe Bryant play. And now for an offensive minded full court coach unlike the half court game he expected with Mike Brown. It’s also why, sources in L.A. revealed, the Lakers, not thinking Phil Jackson wanted to coach again, only approached Jackson because Howard’s representative asked.
The Lakers can’t say much, but it’s abundantly clear Pau Gasol fits playing for D’Antoni much better without Howard. And it was a most revealing interview Howard did with ESPN of Los Angeles last week saying how much he could see the Clippers’ players enjoying playing with one another and the Lakers “have to play like we like each other. Even if we don't want to be friends off the court, whatever that may be, when we step in between the lines or we step in the locker room or the gym, we have to respect each other and what we bring to the table. I think you have to have that relationship and that chemistry off the court for it to really blossom on the court.” Whoa.
Howard, who was known for his perpetual smile and playful hijinks in Orlando, rarely seems to enjoy the game anymore and is mostly sullen. He’s said to say he doesn’t understand why everyone around the team is so uptight and serious. And it’s not difficult to make the jump that being a free agent again this summer L.A. is hardly where he’ll want to be. So should the Lakers trade Howard and not Pau Gasol, who has been mostly invisible trying to fit in with Howard?
The Mavericks, spending the last two summers trying to lure any big name and failing, certainly will pursue Howard as he named them along with the Nets his prime destinations when he was in Orlando. They have plenty of salary cap room and a frustrated Dirk Nowitzki demanding help. But would it make sense for the Lakers to do something now, instead of risking losing Howard for nothing? It’s the sort of risk no one really ever takes. And the Lakers can make other changes first.
But what about Atlanta? Though Howard is from there, most believe he doesn’t want to play there and wouldn’t stay if traded there. But what do you have to lose if you are the Hawks? Josh Smith is an unrestricted free agent after this season. And you aren’t winning a title as currently comprised. Add Howard at center, move Al Horford to power forward and with all your shooting and with that size and perimeter depth you have a pretty good chance to beat Miami and get to a Finals. When does that chance ever come along? And in Atlanta? Worry about Howard later. Isn’t it about going for it when you can? For the Lakers, they get the athletic Smith and maybe a point guard like Devin Harris or a big man like Zaza Pachulia to fortify their weak bench.
And what about the Nets, who we know is where Howard wanted to play? They’d certainly do about anything for Howard. Maybe the Lakers get some combination of players like Gerald Wallace, who could probably play some of that shooting four D’Antoni’s game needs, along with guys to improve your depth like Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and Reggie Evans. And the Nets have to take Ron Artest to get that contract off the Lakers’ hands. Which the Nets certainly would do to get Howard. Isn’t it worth the risk for them?
Trade talk starting to heat up
-- You begin to hear various names in potential deals these days, perhaps some even accurate. One is Memphis’ Rudy Gay, though that doesn’t make that much sense given the good season the Grizzlies are having. Though teams familiar with the Grizzlies say there could be a financial issue with Gay owed about $37 million the next two seasons after this one. Would Memphis take a package with the University of Memphis’ Tyreke Evans as the Kings always lack veteran experience? The Kings have plenty of talent that might work elsewhere, like rookie Thomas Robinson, Marcus Thornton, Jimmer Fredette and Aaron Brooks, and would be much cheaper. After all, the Grizzlies are very good, though still don’t look like a potential Finals candidate in the tough Western Conference.
Also, when there are issues, those players quickly get in trade rumors, like the Kings much disciplined DeMarcus Cousins. But since sitting out suspended again, Cousins is averaging 20.8 points and 13.5 rebounds the last six games. He’s got amazing talents, so despite the issues you aren’t getting his cheap. But what if you offered them an All-Star and Olympian?
It’s a risk, of course, though they say in sports if you are not moving forward you are moving backward. One thing we know about Pat Riley is he loves centers. He went to New York to coach Patrick Ewing after coaching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His first order of business going to Miami was to trade for Alonzo Mourning. Rebounds equal rings, you know. And as we saw again with Miami as the Bulls beat them Friday, the Heat can’t rebound and don’t have a center. Would the Kings take Chris Bosh for Cousins? Would Miami take the chance with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to try an inexperienced and potentially troubled big man? But one with so much natural talent that maybe he just needs discipline? And 2014 is when James can be a free agent is coming. The speculative talk is he’ll go to the Lakers, though not if they don’t have Howard, you assume. And how long can Miami extend a run if they have a real big man? The Heat do not have much else to offer with so little real depth. But if the Kings have their doubts about Cousins they aren’t going to get a better player than Bosh.
”You never say never in the NBA”
-- So can you deny your son-in-law a chance to coach your team? That may be the question for Lakers owner Jerry Buss as daughter Jeanie last week on Twitter showed the ring she received from Phil Jackson. Despite the conventional belief son Jim didn’t want Phil, Lakers’ insiders know Jerry vetoed the hiring. No one would remove a coach, Mike D’Antoni, whom you just hired over Jackson. But these are the Lakers, who fired Mike Brown after five games and let Rudy Tomjanovich go in his first season of a five-year deal. It’s easier now for the Lakers to eat contracts with a new TV deal that started this season and pays the Lakers $200 million a year. So what would be the problem of paying off D’Antoni $12 million if they feel it isn’t working and now Phil is sort of officially part of the actual family? After all, with Kobe Bryant working on 35, it’s a small window of opportunity. Seems ludicrous, though the local media already is hammering D’Antoni. As Phil, the coach who returned to the Lakers after blasting Bryant in a book, always said, “You never say never in the NBA. The Lakers, by the way, are 15-18 and 14-14 under D’Antoni and three games out of the last playoff spot. They now head to play hot teams in Houston and San Antonio and return home to play the Thunder. There was some “We want Phil” chanting Sunday night as the Lakers lost to Denver.
Did Cuban break up the Mavericks too soon?
-- I’ve been wondering when someone was going to note Mark Cuban broke up a title team that could have won again. The Bulls were condemned for years for supposedly breaking up the six-time champions. Though Michael Jordan will tell you he didn’t want to play again, like in 1993, and that obviously was an aging team built around Jordan. Dennis Rodman basically never played again, Luc Longley broke down almost immediately in Phoenix, Scottie Pippen admitted after his 1998 surgery he wasn’t the same player and his scoring average dropped every season for the rest of his career. Meanwhile, regarding Dallas, Tyson Chandler became the league’s top defensive player, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry have shown they still can contribute and J.J. Berea remains a sparkplug and still averages double digits. Most media members generally give Cuban the benefit because he is so accessible. But few owners ever have given up on success like Cuban. And it seems Dirk Nowitzki finally had enough with strong comments Sunday to Dallas’ ESPN: "I always liked to think you don't want to build your franchise on hope,” Nowitzki said about the Mavs’ seeming lack of any real plan but to hope good players will sign there."We hoped for Deron last year. We hoped for Dwight. Why would he leave the Lakers? To me, it makes no sense. He's in a great situation. Why would CP3 leave the best team in the league probably right now. They're probably the deepest team. So are you going to hope that we get something? Maybe Cuban has something up his sleeve. Maybe you have to take a chance on a bad contract to get him in here and make something happen. I mean, I don't know. That's something we'll have to see this summer. We're going to play out this season. I'm going to get better and better, hopefully from game to game, so I can actually close out some of these games. And then we'll see what happens. We knew that coming in, that eight or nine new guys on one-year deals is not really an ideal situation, but what else is there to do?" Nowitzki even mentioned for the second time since he’s returned from injury perhaps he would or should be traded, which seems most unlikely. It also seems to have become clear that a big screen TV at your locker stall and a coach for every player isn’t enough anymore to persuade players to play for the Mavs. You figure, though, Nowitzki and everyone else gives Dallas one more summer. If they cannot sign Dwight Howard you’d have to assume Nowitzki will request a trade and the Mavs will have to start over from zero with basically only Vince Carter and Shawn Marion on the roster and both over 35. Meanwhile, frustrated coach Rick Carlisle backed off his threat to suspend players for bad games. But Carlisle instituted a dress code of business casual when the team is traveling so at least they won’t look like losers. It’s becoming less and less appealing to be a Maverick. They are 13-21 tied with the Kings for 12th in the Western Conference.
NBA news and notes
-- When the Rockets were blown out by the Thunder in the second of a back to back, Houston coach Kevin McHale gave the best answer for this constant babying of players: “We aren't laying brick in 110 degree weather. We're just playing basketball. Since everybody has played basketball when they've been a little tired, you've just got to go out and push through it.” ... Although there’s always an occasional report of how ready and close Derrick Rose is to playing, watching Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio is instructive. Rubio had a similar injury about two months before Rose. Rubio has returned, but was playing about every other game until going out again with back problems. Working so hard in one area can affect another area, which is why the Bulls are likely to err on the side of more caution with Rose. Warned Rubio: "Because you don't trust the knee, you're doing different things and it hurts different spots. Two weeks ago, it was my groin and now's it's my back. So I have to deal with that and keep pushing it. Your body says, 'You've been out for a long time and you have to take it easy.’” ... There are 10 players averaging a double/double in points and rebounds. The most surprising, of course, is Omer Asik. There’s also Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard and J.J. Hickson, the latter three the only players in the top 10 in rebounding and shooting percentage. Hickson, you may recall, was the guy the Cavs considered untouchable when they had a chance to land Amar’e Stoudemire and keep LeBron James with the Cavs and refused to send Hickson to the Suns. The Cavs then pretty much gave up on Hickson, trading him for Omri Casspi and a draft pick. Hickson was then released by the Kings. And he is now helping an unlikely Portland team remain above .500. ... The Jazz, desperately in need of a point guard, you guess might take a hard look at free agent Jarrett Jack, who is having maybe his most consistent season with the Warriors, but won’t be starting ahead of Stephen Curry. If Andrew Bogut can’t return maybe the Warriors make a run at free agent to be Al Jefferson. ... With the same hand broken again, Kevin Love could be out most of the remainder of the season, an amazing run of injuries for the Timberwolves, who nevertheless remain barely out of a playoff spot ninth in the West. It’s been a credit to long underrated coach Rick Adelman.
-- Doesn’t sound great for Alvin Gentry in Phoenix as the Suns, in Chicago Saturday, have lost 15 of 20 as team president Lon Babby said on Phoenix radio the team is more talented and athletic than last season. Their first round pick, Kendall Marshall, and one of their big offseason signings to a three year deal, Michael Beasley, got coaches’ DNP-CD in Sunday’s loss to Memphis. You could see them moving veteran Luis Scola and starting to play young guys and build up assets as their season slips away. ... The Nets at 19-15 are 4-13 against teams with winning records. When owner Mikhail Prokhorov was at a Nets game recently he declared the team has “buckets of talent.” Always better to blame the coach when your personnel decisions haven’t worked out. ... Far below his career averages in every category, Deron Williams, of course, looked elsewhere to shift blame and picked the Olympics. Said Williams to New York media: “I didn’t take any time off. After last season, I never stopped working out. After the Olympics, the day I got back I worked out the next morning. I thought it was the best thing to do, and now looking back, it probably would have been smarter to take some time off and get a little bit of rest.” Yes, a player who said he works too hard. ... So how can you score two points and not play in the game? It happened Sunday night. Give up? Pau Gasol was hurt being fouled and had to leave. That enabled Denver coach George Karl to pick someone off the Lakers’ bench to shoot free throws. Earl Clark came in and made two. Time was called and Clark was taken out, never officially appearing in the game.
-- Turns out a group of slightly drunk fans, according to Deadspin.com, followed the celebrities off the court after the Knicks beat the Spurs and joined Gregg Popovich’s post game press conference to ask questions and then mingle with players in the locker rooms. This was not long after the Spurs’ Stephen Jackson was injured tripping over a waitress almost standing on the court taking an order from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who we hope didn’t order larger than 16 ounce drinks. And you wonder why I’m afraid to go there. ... Watch out Tyson Chandler. It looks like Amar’e Stoudemire is trying for your Defensive Player of the Year award as he told New York media: "I've never been taught defense in my whole career. So to now have a coach who actually teaches defense and teaches strategies and knows positioning and posture and how to guard different plays, it's going to be helpful." Of course, New York reporters couldn’t wait to ask Mike D’Antoni, whom that seemed aimed at. Though in his 11th season and having signed contracts worth more than $150 million, you’d think Stoudemire could afford to have hired someone if none of his previous coaches wanted to coach him. Or could it be it was Stoudemire who didn’t care? ... A big change with the Warriors has been rebounding. The Warriors are second in the league in rebounding margin, grabbing an average of 4.6 more boards a game than their opponents. They've ranked last in the category in five of the past six years. ... With the Clippers leading the Warriors by 38 last week, Warriors coach Mark Jackson took out his starters. But when Vinny Del Negro didn’t, Jackson stopped to go into an extended stare at Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro and Clippers’ players as apparently that is some sort of unwritten rule as well. Jamal Crawford, though, says don’t discount how much Del Negro has done for the Clippers. Said Crawford: "Everybody here has a decent body of work in some way shape or form. They've proven something somewhere in the NBA. There are egos involved. For him to be able to manage that and put people in the right positions and use people to their strengths, he deserves a lot of credit. He has us believing we can win every single day." ... When the Kings beat the Raptors last week one of the local Toronto reporters asked coach Dwane Casey if the Raptors had overlooked the weak Kings. The Kings have a better record that the Raptors, by the way. ... Nikola Vucevic had fallen so far out of the 76ers rotation last season he played three minutes in the two playoff rounds. Now, he’s averaging a double/double for Orlando and 13.4 rebounds the last 12 games. ... Doug Collins, perhaps calling for patience for his sliding team coming off a brutal eight-game road trip said the best franchises in sport the last decade are the Spurs and New England Patriots: “They have been models about what it’s all about to build a team. They stay strong, and they have been very fortunate that those three guys have been healthy for the most part. They’ve got a great coach, a great owner and they don’t panic.”
-- Ronny Turiaf, who spurned the Bulls last season to sign with Miami, declined to return to Miami, apparently because of a lack of confidence in coach Erik Spoelstra. Turiaf told the L.A. Times it’s so much better under Vinny Del Negro: "In the back of my mind, my subconscious was telling me, 'I think you made the right choice to go to a place where the coach actually cares about his players,' He just tells me to be me. It's been a while since I was told to just be me. It probably goes back to the Laker days.” ... Meanwhile, the Ru Paul of big men, as Shaq likes to call him — Chris Bosh — has had one double figure rebounding game in the last 12 playing center for Miami. ... It’s easy to denigrate the Wizards, but Garrett Temple was their fifth point guard to start this season as John Wall finally seems close to a return. In many respects in this NBA, it’s become the most important position, unless you have LeBron James, that is. And why teams with talent like the Jazz continue to under achieve. You better have at least one good point guard these days. ... It was instructive at the end of Sunday’s Denver win over the Lakers the Nuggets kept putting the ball in the hands of Andre Miller, perhaps the most underrated player of this decade. He’s never been an All-Star, the Derek Harper of this era, but is just the eighth player ever with 15,000 points and 7,500 assists ... It’s been an unusual Kobe Bryant to watch this season. He’s leading the league in scoring, hardly unusual even given his age, and he makes some of the most amazing clutch shots, like two late three pointers that almost saved Sunday’s loss to Denver. But the often abrupt Bryant has been unusually open and patient with media, revealing and even sentimental of a sort. He did agree the Lakers were old and show, but also as he told L.A. reporters about being patient, which he never has been, and sacrificing: "There are other duos that are better than us (like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen). But you'll never find a duo with two dominant personalities. Myself and Shaquille, that was kind of once in a lifetime. I'm amazed it went as long as it did. That just wasn't going to last. We're both alpha males. It just wasn't going to happen. What do you think would happen if you put Jordan with Wilt. Not going to happen. The big thing for me was when he did an interview in ESPN magazine and he said that he felt like I couldn't win without him. I was fine up until that point. I'd be damned if I retired and you [reporters] said I couldn't win without this guy. After that, the line was drawn in the sand. I sacrificed quite a bit in individual numbers and MVPs and NBA Finals [MVPs] and all this other stuff. Phil Jackson used to come to us as a team and let me take over during the march to the Finals. Then in the Finals, which was mostly Eastern Conference teams that didn't have any centers, we went through Shaq. Those are things I was willing to sacrifice. And you have to have that sacrifice if that dynamic's going to work." Bryant added the Lakers may be better at something this season: “What are we doing better? Interviews, probably." So just what is going on there? The past three times the Lakers won titles they started 15-3, 15-2 and 15-1. And in the how things change department, looking at positives, D’Antoni said after Sunday’s loss the Lakers still are in good position to make the playoffs.