Praise, and an appraisal, for Dwight Howard

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Dwight Howard.jpgLet me start by saying that despite what Mike Bianchi’s headlines would have you believe, Dwight Howard is not as great, as valuable, or as dominant as LeBron James. No one is.

But that doesn’t mean that Dwight isn’t great, valuable, or dominant in his own right.

Dwight Howard is, without a doubt, the most dominant defender in the NBA today. He alters the game in ways both direct and indirect on a play-by-play basis, and he has such defensive presence that teams simply must account for him at all times. One of the calling cards of efficient offenses is scoring in the paint, but when a giant with rocket boots that can bench press a school bus and has an almost ideal level of athletic coordination is standing in your way? Well, that task is a bit more difficult.

The scariest thing of all, though, is that Dwight hasn’t maxed out on his defensive potential. He can still improve his footwork, his perimeter skills, his judgment. He’s sniffing greatness as a defensive monster, and he’s only getting started. That’s frightening.

While Dwight may still live in LeBron’s shadow (who doesn’t?), he’s also the victim of a bit of an artificial hierarchy. Since the day LeBron James walked into the league, he was dubbed “the second coming.” His rise to greatness seemed preordained, and while no one could have truly anticipated the beast that LeBron has become, the narrative structure was already in place for James to rule the world by the tender age of 25. That’s where he is now, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.

As a consumer of the NBA product and the ever-growing hype machine, I have no qualms in saying that the predictions bordering on prophecy that have accompanied James’ career have made his story that much more interesting. The things he does on the court have seriously altered what we thought was possible, and though that may qualify as more revolutionary than myth-affirming, it doesn’t change the fact that LeBron is just about everything we’d hoped he be from a basketball standpoint.

But by the very nature of those predictions, LeBron must come first and all others must come second. It’s the side effect of feeding into LeBron-mania; all the other great players who happen to play at the same time as James may be good, but they’re not LeBron. When considering everything that James has done in his stay in the NBA thus far, is that standard even fair?

Hardly. But it’s the reality that great players — yes, great players — like Dwight Howard have to live with.

I’m not convinced that LeBron’s impact on the court is so far and above Dwight’s that they aren’t even in the same league. Far from it. James is the indisputable ’09-’10 MVP in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean Howard isn’t important, or great, or dominant. It just means that at this stage, LeBron is better. What’s important for Dwight is not that he’s the best player in basketball today, but simply that he’s making the best of his own unique talents. That’s what’s going to win games (and playoff series’) for the Magic, and that’s what, when all is said and done, will finally earn Dwight the praise he deserves.

Enes Kanter on claim nobody wants to play with Russell Westbrook: ‘Wrong!!!’

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 10:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates with Enes Kanter #11 after a win against the San Antonio Spurs in game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 10, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant might have left the Thunder, in part, because he grew tired of playing with Russell Westbrook.

But does that mean nobody wants to play with Westbrook?

Presented with that claim, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter refuted it strongly:

Of course, many players want to play with Russell Westbrook. He’s a great player and even better competitor. People want to be around someone so maniacal about winning and capable of delivering.

But there’s an obvious difference between Kanter and Durant. It’s much easier for a pick-and-roll big man than a superstar wing to play with Westbrook.

Westbrook tends to over-dribble, and he can be selfish. I’d understand Durant preferring a team with more ball movement like the Warriors.

Kanter doesn’t have the cachet to pick any team at any salary like Durant did. Of his options, Kanter is probably genuinely happy to play with Westbrook. And the Thunder should be happy to have Westbrook (as long as they do). His strengths far outweigh his flaws.

No scoring star seamlessly blend with each other. Even LeBron James and Dwyane Wadeclose friends and one an elite passer — struggled to mesh early in their Heat days. It’s just hard when there’s one ball.

So, it’s unfair to kill Westbrook for this drawback to his game. Maybe he’d click better with another star who’s more aggressive than Durant. And it’s not even as if Westbrook and Durant failed together. Oklahoma City won a lot of games with those two.

Plenty of players would sign up to replace Durant as Westbrook’s partner in crime.

Report: Amar’e Stoudemire wanted to play for Suns next season

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the Phoenix Suns looks at the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Amar’e Stoudemire — despite spending more time and having more success with the Suns — signed with the Knicks to retire.

Why not Phoenix?

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Stoudemire was linked to the Suns last year, but a return never happened.

It didn’t make more sense now. Phoenix already has 15 players, the regular-season roster limit. John Jenkins and Alan Williams have unguaranteed deals, but why waive one for Stoudemire? The Suns are semi-rebuilding, and Tyson Chandler already serves as a veteran big.

There’s a reason Stoudemire retired rather then sign somewhere. Maybe nobody wanted him.

But it’s also only July, and teams are still filling out their rosters. If Stoudemire wants to keep playing, he might have opportunities later, especially after the trade deadline. He’s just 33. There’s now reason to believe his retirement won’t stick.

Thunder renounce Derek Fisher

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 25: Oklahoma City Thunder Derek Fisher #6 runs up the court against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 25, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Derek Fisher is already stumping for his second head-coaching job.

Fisher has done plenty since retiring as a player — getting hired by the Knicks, getting fired by the Knicks and in between being attacked by Matt Barnes and finding another controversy about player relations.

All the while, Fisher counted against the cap for the Thunder, his last NBA team.

Oklahoma City finally renounced him to sign Alex Abrines.

Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops:

This is one of my favorite salary-cap quirks, explained in further detail here.

These are becoming fewer and further between, because teams are using cap room more frequently as the salary cap skyrockets. Gone are the days of a team operating above the cap for a dozen straight years.

There’s also even less utility in old cap holds now that a player must have played the prior season for a team to be used in a sign-and-trade. (Not that these holds were useful except the rarest of occasions prior, anyway.)

Fisher’s quick transition from playing to coaching helped make this an exception, allowing this weird (and trivial) transaction.

Report: Las Vegas also in contention for 2017 NBA All-Star game

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 25:  Bushwacker, a world champion bucking bull, appears at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign prior to the final ride of his legendary career on October 25, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for Professional Bull Riders)
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Where will the NBA hold the 2017 All-Star game?

Charlotte? No.

New Orleans? Probably.

New York/Brooklyn or Chicago? Maybe.

One more maybe: Las Vegas.

Scott Kusher of The Advocate:

The NBA held All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2007. By all accounts, it was wild.

I’d be surprised if the league returned the event to Las Vegas, but at this point, I’d really be surprised by any option besides New Orleans.