What NBA Draft night meant for five teams

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We just finished a season. The confetti is still stuck to Laker fans’ shoes. But one of the best things about the NBA is that immediately the slate is wiped clean and the season begins anew with the draft. And more so than any other sport, draft night can define your franchise. Even if you elect not to participate, it likely means something about who and what your team is. And Thursday night was no different for 2010-2011.

Here’s a look at five teams and what their draft night actions meant for their franchise. Their mantras, so to speak.

1. Sacramento Kings: “If you’re going to swing, swing for the fences.” The Kings had every reason to play it cool. They’ve got their franchise player, they’ve got a good core of young players. They didn’t have to take the risk that other teams weren’t willing to take. But they did. And they were rewarded with a player that many say could be the second best prospect in the draft. A willingness to go big or go home landed them not only DeMarcus Cousins, who will pair with Evans to create a frontal assault not unlike a barrage from catapults, and they then landed Hassan Whiteside who plummeted to the second. The Kings capitalized on their opportunities tonight and it paid off for them.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves: “Irrational movement is still progress.” The Wolves turned 5 beautiful, untouched picks into a marginally good small forward with a considerable, if not large, contract, and several tweener players that would have been available later in the draft than where they were selected. Wes Johnson is fine, but is he better than Cousins? Than Udoh? Than Monroe? Lazar Hayward… what? And they sent Babbitt to Portland for Martell Webster…and gave them Ryan Gomes! The Wolves’ GM got worked by a guy who was fired.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: “Let the good times roll.” Oklahoma City could have used their cap space to aggressively pursue veterans for the young Thunder squad. And they would have overpaid. Considerably. That’s what happens to small market teams with young cores. Veterans who would be marginal elsewhere have their agents smell blood when those types of teams come calling,and the prospect of getting an impact guy turns the money into quicksand. But Sam Presti, as usual, is one step ahead. He takes on Daequan Cook, who can shoot and is cheap, nabs the 18th, and then turns around and uses the 21st and 26th to grab Cole Aldrich at 11. Aldrich could only work on specific teams that needed his size and rebounding, where he wouldn’t be pressured to produce on versatile terms. Like,oh, say, Oklahoma City.  Stunning how good some people are and aren’t at this game.

4. Memphis Grizzlies: “We are going to be screwing with our backcourt.” That’s what I take away, anyway, as someone who does happen to pull for the bumbling bears. Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez. The good way this would turn out is if this means they’re moving O.J. Mayo to point, slotting in X at two-guard, re-signing Rudy and all of a sudden you have long athletic scorers all over the floor. The bad way this may turn out is that they keep Conley, slot Vasquez behind him, and then deal O.J. Mayo in order to clear space enough to re-sign Gay. Effectively running in place. This is something watch as the summer gets started.

5. New Jersey: “We (heart) athletes!’ We’re going to find out very quickly if Derrick Favors is going to be good. Because really, it comes down to whether he can shoot or not. He’s athletic, whee! He’s compared to Dwight Howard because he can jump and is muscular! Whee! But he’s not Howard’s size, so it’s going to come down to whether he can do anything on the offensive end. If he can, the Nets have something special there. If not… well,  hey, at least they also got Damion James who’s also athletic. This is, after all, professional athletics. I suppose you can’t have too many athletes.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.