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If not Los Angeles, where might Howard end up?

The Lakers say no Dwight Howard trade. But can they take the risk when even they’d have to admit it doesn’t make sense for Howard to return to play with Kobe Bryant and for Mike D’Antoni and after this miserable season?
"Every month this season, Howard’s shot total and scoring average have decreased to this month where it is 7.5 shots per game and 10.5 points per game," writes Sam Smith. "When Mike Brown was fired, Howard was averaging 22.4 points per game. And his back was supposed to get better after that."
(Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Sam Smith Mailbag

How many years now have we been debating and speculating about the future of a player who certainly doesn’t seem like he can lead a team to a championship? I know I keep saying Dwight Howard will resign with the Lakers given the big salary difference. But every day it seems there’s more and more reason for Howard to play just about anywhere but with the Lakers. I know, I know: Not another Lakers/Howard/Kobe story. But this is really about other teams. Really.

The Lakers’ coach, Mike D’Antoni, eschews post play, and Howard has made it fairly clear he doesn’t much care for the coach or the offense. Kobe Bryant all but called Howard a malinger last week and pretty much since then it’s been amazing to watch the Lakers and see Bryant with the ball basically never even look at Howard. To Kobe, he seems to be Jordan Hill. Actually, none of the kids much seems to want to play with Dwight. There are few postups, he’s not in the pick and roll, and he’s rarely sought out. His response seems to be both not moving much and in a spirited walk in transition. Every month this season, Howard’s shot total and scoring average have decreased to this month where it is 7.5 shots per game and 10.5 points per game. When Mike Brown was fired, Howard was averaging 22.4 points per game. And his back was supposed to get better after that.

And then the Atlanta Constitution interviews Howard’s dad, who says everyone should play nicer with Dwight, but he nevertheless thinks Howard will reup in Los Angeles. But, really, would you after all this? Can this be fun? And we know Howard is much more about fun than basketball.

Howard is from Atlanta, and last week I speculated about the Hawks’ potential pursuit of free agent Howard this summer with the Hawks having Howard’s AAU teammates Josh Smith and Lou Williams. There are rumors about trading Smith, but if the Hawks were to offer Al Horford, Jeff Teague and maybe a draft pick now you assume the Lakers would have to take a good, hard look given where they are in 10th in the West and without a first round pick this season and in 2015 from the Steve Nash trade.

The Mavs keep pretending to be in the picture, but with a quickly slowing Dirk Nowitzki that seems unlikely.

I can see the Rockets making a run as they have the coup of the season with the acquisition of James Harden and believe they need one more star. Though Omer Asik has been a big prize, the Rockets didn’t even really know what they had and quietly had talked about moving Asik. Of course, the issue would be whether Howard wants to play in Houston for the sign and trade. Howard gives up perhaps $30 million if he leaves the Lakers as a free agent because he would get a fifth year. How about Asik, Jeremy Lin back with Mike D’Antoni and some young, athletic players like Chandler Parsons and Donatas Montiejunas? Though the Lakers certainly wouldn’t want to trade Howard to the Western Conference.

The issue trying to figure Howard is he routinely does the worst things for himself. His father said he believes Dwight realizes he may have made a mistake leaving Orlando. Howard had said he wanted to go to Brooklyn, which he could have if he hadn’t opted in last season because he felt fans would like him again. I know the Nets say they aren’t interested anymore with All-Star center Brook Lopez. But that’s hard to believe the way the Nets are sliding badly and pretty much know now you don’t build a team around Deron Williams.

Would the Lakers trade Howard for Williams, Lopez and maybe Kris Humphries and draft picks and also send back Steve Nash to the Nets? The Nets I assume would no matter what they say they would as they’re not going anywhere with the team they have and that sounded like the sound of boos as the Nets are now closer to eighth than the Knicks in second.

The Lakers say no Howard trade. But can they take the risk when even they’d have to admit it doesn’t make sense for Howard to return to play with Bryant and for D’Antoni and after this miserable season?

A look at the old Bench Mob

-- So how is that old gang of ours, the beloved Bench Mob? I was thinking of this watching the Knicks and no longer finding Ronnie Brewer, who probably should have shelved his pride and taken the minimum from the Bulls instead of the Knicks. With the return of Iman Shumpert, Brewer is out of the rotation. He’s played a combined 23 minutes in the last 12 games and is at career lows in basically every category. Too bad. He’s a very good guy and he’s being booed by the boors in Madison Square Garden. John Lucas III has gotten a bit of a reprieve with the Raptors big trade. He’d played a combined 47 minutes in the previous 15 games, but he’s averaging about 17 minutes the last six games and shooting 36 percent on the season and came through with 19 in a big win Sunday. C.J. Watson is in the rotation with the Nets, but facing declining minutes and the team is apparently trying to get Ben Gordon as Watson is averaging 5.9 points, his third lowest NBA season in his six and shooting a three-year low in three pointers. Kyle Korver is the league’s leading three-point shooter starting for the Hawks and just established an Atlanta franchise record for most consecutive games with a three. But inexplicably he wasn’t invited to the NBA three-point contest at All-Star break, certainly the biggest oversight in all the All-Star weekend selections. That’s right: The NBA ignored the league’s best long distance shooter, which certainly makes the contest irrelevant.

NBA news and notes

-- Interesting juxtaposition of stories in the New York Post last week with one quoting Jeff Van Gundy that the Nets should hire P.J. Carlesimo fulltime and next to that a story of a Nets loss quoting Reggie Evans saying, “Typical Nets basketball. We don’t play together, careless turnovers, we don’t execute offensively and defensively we don’t do anything. We don’t defend, we don’t guard the ball, we don’t help each other out.” It’s really the roster, though, and no, even for billions in rubles Phil isn’t interested. P.J. would probably be a good choice. ... The 76ers got a win Saturday, but they’re slowly slipping out of the playoff picture amidst rumors they may make some changes. And one could be Evan Turner, who’s slumped of late and continues to have trouble finding his way with Jrue Holiday the primary playmaker. Turner is probably best as a point forward but was averaging five points the last four games before Saturday in more than 30 minutes. Said a frustrated coach Doug Collins: "I don't know that you can plan to go through what we've gone through this season. It's been the toughest year I've ever had as a coach, and the reason is that there are great expectations. I've gone to places where the rosters were thin, but there weren't expectations. Going into this season after finishing the way we did and making the big (Andrew Bynum) trade, there were expectations of us being a top four team and a lot of exciting things happening. No Andrew and now we've lost [Jason Richardson for the season with Thaddeus Young also out]. This has been the toughest challenge that I've ever had. (But) you think there's anybody out there in the outside world that feels sorry for any of us? Let's understand it is a privilege to play basketball. And the moment you ever look at basketball as a job, you can't play at the highest level because then it becomes work. Basketball should be joy, and it should be fun. The moment it becomes a job, then it becomes work and nobody likes to go to work, everybody likes to go play." I haven’t heard any such talk, but you could see Evans a good fit with the slumping Warriors, who could use a facilitator at forward with Stephen Curry really a scoring guard. Or maybe for the Timberwolves’ Derrick Williams since Thaddeus Young plays power forward? ... That’s Omer Asik catching those lob passes from James Harden while Roy Hibbert and Kendrick Perkins make Miguel Cabrera look like Brooks Robinson. ... Add Nikola Vucevic to that Most Improved list. Yes, it’s a bad team in Orlando, but tough to ignore Vucevic averaging 14.4 and 12.9 last month and 16.8 and 13.4 this month. The Bynum deal did look good at the time for the 76ers, whom the Magic insisted upon in that multiteam deal.

-- I don’t think the Celtics are better without Rajon Rondo, though they are now 7-0 since he was hurt. But he always has been a way overrated defender because of the steals and playing the passing lanes. Avery Bradley is emerging as one of the league’s better on ball defenders. Unless the Celtics make the conference finals, which is a great season and worth the effort, this winning streak that likely changes any plans to trade a veteran probably sets the Celtics back a few years. ... He endured plenty of abuse with that start, but give Randy Wittman in Washington credit that the Wizards never gave up and have been competitive with the return of John Wall and Nene. ... I’m not fully sure what’s wrong with Deron Williams, averaging seven year lows in scoring and assists and six year lows in rebounds and below career averages in just about every category. And he’s been vanishing at big times. When Kobe Bryant made that terrific driving dunk in the Lakers’ late drive to beat the Nets last week, Williams withered and didn’t score after that. And it was brutal to watch him trying to keep up with Tony Parker in Sunday night’s blowout home loss to the Spurs without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. In this point guard era, I no longer have him top 10 and maybe barely in the top 15. If you were looking for a point guard, you’d probably want these guys first in no real order: Rondo, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, Jrue Holiday, Kyrie Irving, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Mike Conley, George Hill and maybe even Greivis Vasquez, Jose Calderon and Andre Miller/Ty Lawson. The Nets also gave up the No. 6 pick in the 2012 draft to get Gerald Wallace and then went on to pay Wallace, also below career averages in just about every category, more than $40 million. Portland used the pick for Lillard, who you’d likely want over Williams now. Speaking of the ‘Blazers, who are sliding as they lost in Orlando Sunday, you can see them looking to deal and maybe try to get something for free agent J.J. Hickson and maybe Wesley Matthews. ... Basketball writers in Toronto were fairly unanimous in asking aloud why Toronto would want the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer at 31 and not the big man the Raptors need. Sure sounds like nothing to that one. ... Not according to Elias, the Nets now are 11-7 when Keith Bogans scores at least six points. ... Last week’s Eastern and Western players of the week, Nate Robinson and David Lee, were drafted by Isiah Thomas, who now works for NBA TV.

-- Joakim Noah will be the Bulls’ player representative at the big All-Star weekend meeting to vote on Billy Hunter’s fate. Said Noah with Hunter on leave from the players’ association: “I don’t think the players are too happy. I think there is a lot of explaining to do.” Noah has talked about possibly sitting out the All-Star game because of plantar fasciitis, though he certainly will attend the weekend. ... Former Bulls assistant Johnny Bach, who is now scouting for the Bulls, will be among the inaugural class of Atlantic 10 Conference basketball legends joining among others, Red Auerbach in the "Class of 2013.” ... The Larry Brown of Japan? Former Bulls player and coach Bill Cartwright won three of his first five for Osaka Evessa after taking over a 5-19 team. Cartwright, who takes guitar lessons and has interests in automobile, restaurant and security companies, told Ed Odeven of the Japan Times he is excited about a different challenge: “I’ve always liked to expose myself to different things. That’s why I’m here. When this opportunity came up, I saw it as a great opportunity to have an adventure, to be able to come out here and expose myself to different things, the culture. I’ll try anything once to check it out.” ... Amusing to read Shawn Marion saying he won’t go to a bad team if he is traded. Of course with him owed $9.3 million and a trade kicker for next season, no one wants him as he’s been available for some time. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed he’s with a 22-28 team. And get this: From a previous trade, the Thunder received a Dallas first from Houston in the James Harden trade. The Mavs likely will get the pick this season, but it’s unprotected in 2014, which means the Mavs better get good fast ... Miami is 18-5 against Western Conference teams with LeBron James playing at an incredible level. Yes, you can find flaws in the Heat, their lack of size, their lack of invincibility. And not to say you shouldn’t try to beat them. But they remind me of the baseball Indians in 1997 when the White Sox made the so called “white flag” trade being about three games behind Cleveland in late July. Though it’s been much used against the Sox over the years, it worked out with two players from that deal vital in the 2000 division winner. But if you were paying attention that season you knew the Indians were far better than anyone. They eventually would get to the World Series and an extra innings loss in Game 7. The Heat look way too inevitable this season that you wouldn’t want to mortgage your future in the East to challenge them this season. Yes, Miami is 0-5 against the Bulls, Knicks and Pacers. Of course, they were 1-6 against the top two teams, the Bulls and Boston in 2011, and went to the Finals after winning eight of 10 against those two in the playoffs.

-- DeMarcus Cousins apparently got himself ejected last week for using a pejorative about women with a vulgarity to describe the work of official Tre Maddox. And Sacramento still wants to keep them? ... C’mon, enough with calling him World Peace as Ron Artest again was suspended for a violent act, punching Detroit’s Brandon Knight. Geez, and in Detroit of all places where Artest instigated the worst brawl in American team sports history. If he changed his name to “ESPN Stinks,” would they call him that during the games? Hey, that may not be a bad idea. ... All this nonsense around the Lakers only elevates Steve Nash. Amidst all the dysfunction, Nash is quietly on the way to another 50/40/90 shooting season, still in the top 10 in the league in assists and scoring in double figures. Kobe wants to pass a few games, so Nash becomes a spot up shooter without a word. Kobe wants to shoot, so Nash goes back to distributing and not shooting. He gets dismissed for defense, but it’s not like anyone else there plays much, including Howard. Nash has shown not only is he still a valuable team member, but one of the true pros of the league. ... How about Howard’s father condemning Mike D’Antoni and saying it would never happen under Stan Van Gundy, whom Howard demanded be fired. Howard would have been ideal with Deron Williams.

-- The latest rumors have the Suns and Knicks in some odd exchange involving Iman Shumpert and Jared Dudley, likely another payroll savings move for the Suns if it occurs. But you have to figure someone’s going to make a move for Marcin Gortat, who seems to have been banished from the offense and got just two shots in 26 minutes in Friday’s blowout loss to the Thunder. He got the sixth most on the team in Sunday’s followup blowout loss. Gortat’s been pretty much removed from the offense under Lindsey Hunter. He has a year left after this season at $7.7 million and he’s a player who long has longed for Chicago. Gortat is Polish and Chicago is home to one of the biggest Polish populations in the world. When he played for Orlando, Gortat coveted the trips to Chicago and has told acquaintances over the years he’d love to play in Chicago. Would the Suns go for an expiring deal? Wait until he’s a free agent? But the Bulls have an All-Star center. The Suns have the fifth poorest record in the NBA, but they are probably the least well off franchise in the NBA. Only Phoenix, Dallas and Milwaukee don’t have a participant in the All-Star Game, All-Star Saturday Night or the Rising Stars Challenge. But Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki and Milwaukee a top 15 scorer in Brandon Knight. ... Quietly, some NBA players like to stop at St. Jude Children’s Hospital when in Memphis. David Lee of the Warriors does and usually donates $25,000. After his visit Friday he decided to double that. Good for him.

-- Zach Randolph supposedly has been told by management he won’t be traded this season, according to Memphis media. But the acquisition of Ed Davis in the Rudy Gay deal means to many around the NBA Randolph will be available this summer. It makes it difficult for Grizzlies players with Gay already with a game winner in Toronto, to believe ownership has the same winning goals. And previous management gave up on O.J. Mayo for nothing last summer. Tayshaun Prince was averaging 9.3 points on 41 percent shooting for Memphis before he was 8-8 Sunday. ... It’s official now. LeBron James on Harden after the Heat beat Houston 114-108: “He has made superstar status. He is worthy of the max contract he received. He can do a little bit of everything.” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had it right against the Rockets, averaging 106 per game about a half point less than Oklahoma City: “They’re the modern-day Phoenix Suns. It’s the fastest tempo in the league.” ... Ricky Rubio has just been starting to move better and have an effect the past week with his first double figure assist game, which was about 11 months after his ACL surgery. Derrick Rose had the same surgery May 12, 2012. Iman Shumpert of the Knicks suffered the same injury the same day as Rose. He had surgery May 2, 2012 and returned Jan. 17. But his production has continued to decline with 34 percent shooting this month as the Knicks consider removing him from the starting lineup after one of four with one rebound and zero assists in 21 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers.

-- The ABC coverage Sunday of the Clippers’ win over the Knicks overheard Chris Paul late telling Grant Hill how vital he was at 40 years old defending Carmelo Anthony. The Clippers were pulling away late thanks to Paul and Jamal Crawford. But Hill continues to amaze, being called upon to defend one of the game’s premier scorers down the stretch even at 40, and just one day younger than the game’s oldest player, the Knicks’ Kurt Thomas, who rarely plays. It’s been a remarkable, if star crossed, career for Hill, who missed almost four seasons with serious complications from botched ankle surgery in 2000 and then returned to be an All-Star again and an iron man missing four games in four years coming into this season. With his collegiate championships, Olympic gold medal and five years all-NBA to start is career Hill has to be a lock for first year entry into the Basketball Hall of Fame. ... The New York Daily News Sunday had a sort of “Where are they now” on onetime All-Star Vin Baker, who is studying to get his Master’s degree in divinity with the hopes of becoming a pastor like his father. Baker talked about his problems with alcohol, which eventually became public when he was traded to Boston Though it makes you consider your responsibilities as a citizen. When something happens, people always second guess that someone should have come forward to speak up, that they would have. Baker talked about his secret, double life as an All-Star/alcoholic in Milwaukee and Seattle. But we all knew about this. I did. Teammates always would talk about empty bottles of liquor stacked up outside Baker’s hotel room door. But he denied it; his representatives denied it. And contracts worth tens of millions of dollars were at stake. When you hear rumors of a fellow worker as an alcoholic, do you turn him in? People are quick to say how much they would have done, but they rarely do. Whistle blowing on a co-worker or friend or acquaintance isn’t so easy or so accepted. Until after the fact. ... There was another “Where is he now” in the San Antonio Express News on Larry Kenon, who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds for the high flying Spurs of the late 1970’s and is being inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame. Bulls fans, not so fondly, remember Kenon, who left the Spurs in 1980 to sign with the Bulls as a free agent. Then coach Jerry Sloan lobbied hard for Bernard King. But management opted for the dunking Kenon, who disdained defense except when he was trying to duck a chair in the locker room Sloan threw at him after still another indifferent Kenon effort that would lead to Sloan’s firing. Kenon drifted out of the NBA after two poor seasons with the Bulls and King went on to become one of the game’s elite scorers.

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