Denton's Action and Reaction: Sept. 19

By John Denton
September 19, 2012

ORLANDO – For every action there’s a reaction. So let’s take a look at some of the headlines and newsmakers from around the NBA and offer up some reactions:

ACTION: Former Magic center Dwight Howard tells ESPN that he erred in trying to make everybody happy last season in Orlando and learned some valuable lessons.

REACTION: In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN’s Ric Bucher, Howard talked of his messy exit from Orlando, his hopes of winning a championship with the Lakers and his fears following a back injury that required season-ending surgery.

The most telling part of the interview was Howard talking about his odd decision to waive his opt-out clause last March and remain in Orlando after insisting all season that he had wanted to be traded. He said the pressure of trying to please the fans in Orlando and remain with his then-Magic teammates led to him sticking with the team he spent the first eight seasons of his career playing for.

But after spending time in Los Angeles following back surgery, Howard ultimately came to the decision that it was time to move on from the Magic. He pushed for a trade – first to the Brooklyn Nets and later to the Lakers -and got his wish when he was dealt in a four-team, 12-player blockbuster deal.

Howard said the fallout from LeBron James’ defection from Cleveland to the Miami Heat played a major role in his back-and-forth uncertainty last season. Initially, he didn’t want to make anyone mad at him, but he ultimately determined that he needed to instead do what he thought was best for him.

``That’s one of the lessons that I learned, you know -- I can’t make everybody happy,’’ Howard told ESPN. ``And it was a tug of war between my feelings and the fans and everybody else and their feelings and what happened to LeBron. And I saw him – everybody hated him for leaving Cleveland and what he did. I never wanted anybody to hate me, you know. I wanted everybody to love me, you know, like me, for sticking around and doing what they wanted me to do. And making everybody else happy. And that was a valuable lesson for me, you know. … I can’t make everybody happy.’’

I know for a fact that Howard has always loved living in Orlando, loved the affection that the fans showered onto him and deep down wanted to spend the rest of his career in Orlando at one time. But there was always an inner struggle with him because he felt like he could become a bigger star, a bigger global icon if you will, if he was playing in a bigger market. That’s certainly debatable considering Howard’s soaring popularity (record-setting number of All-Star votes, several appearances on late-night shows, numerous commercial opportunities, etc.) while wearing Magic pinstripes.

Howard’s thoughts of leaving Orlando germinated last fall during a period when the Magic couldn’t communicate with the star center because of the NBA lockout. Howard was deeply hurt by then-head coach Stan Van Gundy exposing his demand for the coach to be fired last spring. And when Howard went to Los Angeles to have back surgery and remained in Southern California, it allowed the superstar center to have the distance to sever all emotional ties to Orlando.

Howard said there are no misgivings about the messy divorce from Orlando.

``I don’t have any regrets, you know. I think everything happened the way that it was meant to happen,’’ Howard said. ``I really just wish some of the lies and some of the things being said didn’t come out the way it did, you know. But I have an opportunity to do something great here in L.A., and I can’t look back and think about everything that's behind me.’’

ACTION: Shoe giant, adidas, is documenting Derrick Rose’s recovery from a torn ligament in his knee with episodes of the Bulls’ star talking about the mental and physical pain that he suffered.

REACTION: Rose is clearly one of the good guys in sports and has remained a humble, down-to-earth person despite his exploding superstardom in Chicago. Any shot the Bulls had of going deep into the playoffs last spring ended when Rose drove to his left against the Philadelphia 76ers and his knee buckled.

With Rose out – last spring and likely until February this season – the Bulls fell apart in the playoffs and likely won’t contend again this season. During the first adidas spot, Rose talked about how his injury sapped his desire to even watch the playoffs because of the pain that it caused him.

``The whole time the playoffs (were) going on I only watched a couple of games from every series, but I wasn’t into it like I was if I was playing,’’ he recalled. ``I know that’s going to push me to work even harder … thinking of (the Miami Heat) winning the championship. It’s just going to drive me and I know I’m (going to) have another (great) year.’’

Rose’s injury just makes the Heat even greater favorites to win the East once again. Boston’s aging roster couldn’t put away the Heat last spring when it had Miami down 3-2, the Knicks are fraudulent contenders and Indiana and Philadelphia don’t have the firepower to overtake Miami.

It will be interesting to see how the Rose saga plays out in Chicago. He is signed long-term, but clearly the clock could be ticking on his time in his hometown of Chicago. With the Bulls saddled with several long-term contracts and the Bulls in no position to overtake Miami, does Rose look elsewhere at some point as a way to get to the NBA Finals? There are already rumblings in Chicago that the Bulls have yet to sign highly successful head coach Tom Thibodeau to a contract extension because there are fears that his confrontational style will ultimately wear think on the players.

For now though, Rose’s focus is simply on rudimentary thoughts such as learning the basics of using his surgically repaired knee once again. But he is vowing that he will return from the injury better than ever – a scary thought for opposing point guards who have to try and check him on the perimeter.

``These (rehab) things I never learned before, where I used to just go out there and just hoop. Just learning how to march again, walk, run all that stuff,’’ he said. ``I’m just trying to get healthy – that’s my biggest thing. Get my body together - rebuilding my whole body and have a lot confidence in myself and see where it takes me. It’s just a blessing. It’s a real blessing to see that this injury can’t stop me.’’

ACTION: Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers is already employing some of his best motivational tactics, saying he wants his players to ``hate’’ the Miami Heat.

REACTION: Rivers isn’t always the greatest X-and-O tactician, but he might be unrivaled in NBA circles when it comes to his communication skills and his ability to motivate his players. Rivers routinely gets the most out of teams during the playoffs because they are able to channel their energy toward a singular mission and play with a purpose.

Rivers has wasted no time going to work on the psyche of his team, reminding the players several times throughout the summer that the Celtics blew a 3-2 lead against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. (Side note: It’s fun now to wonder had Boston won that series if the Heat would have broken up their roster in some way. Would they have traded Chris Bosh? Or even LeBron James (for Howard?) had Miami come up short two years in a row?).

A master at getting players to play exceptionally hard for him, Rivers is trying to sharpen the focus on beating the Heat. After all, he says the Celtics won’t have to worry about the revamped Lakers if they can’t get past Miami.

``Honestly, I don’t care about the Lakers … I have my eye squarely on Miami,’’ Rivers told the Boston Globe. ``I come up to my players during the year – they’re in the facility now – I bring up Miami every single day to them. I want them to hate them. I want them to beat them. That’s gotta be our focus.’’

Ray Allen’s contentious defection from Boston to Miami is sure to only fan the flames between the two organizations. (Actually, I don’t blame Allen one bit for leaving because the Celtics twice tried to trade him and severely cut his playing time last season). As hard as Rivers tries to get his players to ``hate them,’’ it’s just not going to be enough for the aging Celtics to knock the Heat off the mountain top. I like Boston’s acquisition of the perpetually underrated Jason Terry, but that won’t be nearly enough for the Celtics to overwhelm James, Dwyane Wade, Bosh, Allen and Rashard Lewis.

ACTION: Former star guard Tracy McGrady has reportedly worked out for the San Antonio Spurs and the New York Knicks this summer in hopes of catching on with a contender this season.

REACTION: I might be in the minority here, but I think McGrady still has something left to offer a contending team. At 33 years old and 15 years into the league, McGrady is no longer the high-flying dunker and the prolific scorer who twice led the league in scoring while playing in Orlando.

But because of his size (6-8, 225 pounds), versatility (he can play guard or forward) and highly underrated passing abilities, McGrady still has something to offer to a team trying to win. Sure, he averaged only 5.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game last season while he was mostly miserable in a mop-up role in Atlanta, but McGrady did put up nights such as these to show he still has plenty of firepower left in his arsenal: 17 (points)-4 (rebounds)-4 (assists), 14-7-5 and 16-7-4.

He spent the entire summer in Orlando working with a trainer to get himself in shape for one more shot at playing with a contender. With him being financially secure from playing 15 years in the league and having a ``lifetime’’ contract with adidas, McGrady is financially secure and just wants to keep playing for the love of the game.

McGrady has certainly had his selfish moments during his time in the NBA, but I think he’s gotten mostly a bad rap during his career. In Orlando, he heaved up loads of shots, but he had to do so because of the inferior talent around him. In Houston, the promise of he and Yao Ming were ruined by injuries and the two could never get past San Antonio or Dallas.

Remarkably, a player of McGrady’s extraordinary gifts – his 62-point night in Orlando in 2004 could have easily been a 75-point effort had he not missed so many fourth-quarter free throws because of fatigue – has never been on a team that made a deep playoff run. Here’s to hoping that he finally gets that chance with a contending team.

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jdenton@orlandomagic.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.



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