ProBasketballTalk's free agent roundup: Let the party begin

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Free agency is underway — although it has unofficially been underway for weeks through back channels. Everyone has been talking to everyone. So, consider midnight the end of the NBA’s “we’re looking the other way at all the tampering” season.

And the start of the real free agent craziness.

Below is a roundup of where things stand right before all sane people go to bed.

* LeBron James is in an undisclosed location in Akron (as if everyone in Akron doesn’t actually know where he is). Dwyane Wade is in Chicago. Chris Bosh is in Chicago, too. Coincidence?  All three are ready to receive visitors, starting at midnight. Or Thursday morning in LeBron’s case. No real news here, just thought you’d want to know where they are camping out.

* Wade did get a call just after midnight from Pat Riley asking him to
remain with the Heat. Which he is likely to do anyway. So maybe they
also talked about recruiting. Or the oil spill in the Gulf. Or how Drake is overrated. Who knows?

* The Hawks wasted no time in offering Joe Johnson a six-year, $124.5 million max deal. Pretty soon he’ll take it, he wanted to stay home and would have done so for less. The Knicks had a 2:45 hour meeting with Johnson and offered him the max, but they can only offer five years and about $27 million less. And rumor is he only would consider New York if LeBron went, Johnson doesn’t want to be the No. 1 guy anywhere (more comfortable in the 1a or 2 role), particularly in New York.

The Hawks wanted a deal that would handcuff the franchise in three or four years. Apparently.

* The Knicks also are expected to meet tonight with Mike Miller while in Los Angeles.

* The Cavaliers are meeting with seemingly everyone and anyone: Brendan Haywood, Ray Allen, John Salmons and Mike Miller.

* Dirk Nowitzki may be a free agent but he flew all the way from Germany to meet face-to-face tonight with the Mavericks to hammer out a longer term deal. He is going nowhere but Dallas.

* Rudy Gay officially got a qualifying offer, so the Grizzlies can match any deal he is given. Line the one Minnesota is rumored to be offering not long after midnight tonight.

* Boston is expected to sit down with Paul Pierce, who opted out of his $21.5 million owed next year, and figure out a new deal. With Doc Rivers coming back for one more run, you can bet the two sides find a way to bring Pierce — the talisman for the Celtics — back.

* Maybe the biggest surprise of the day was Memphis not extending a qualifying offer to Ronnie Brewer — a young (25) player on the rise and a hard-nosed defender that the Grizzlies gave up a first round draft pick before. They let him walk for nothing. It saves $3.8 million but they get no players in return for him. Penny wise and pound foolish.

* Also, San Antonio’s Richard Jefferson entered the free agent market. Shockingly. He opted out of a $15.2 million deal for next season, under the theory that he could recoup that money with more money over the next four years or so. It makes sense if somebody gave him $10 million a year for four years. But he is more likely to get three years at $6 million. And then he doesn’t look as smart.

Of course, Baron Davis did the same thing a few years back and got a huge contract from the Clippers. (Which they now regret.) Time will tell, sometimes general managers do the craziest things, but it looks like Jefferson cost himself a lot of money.

Phil Jackson says his goal for Knicks last season was 35 wins

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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Phil Jackson predicted the playoffs for the Knicks in 2014-15, and he’s again drumming up postseason buzz for 2016-17.

Between, he was much more cautious.

The Knicks president didn’t make any bold proclamations entering last season. But, somewhat after the fact, he revealed his goal for the team.

Jackson in a March interview with Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak that was published this month:

I’m also still hopeful that we can win the 35 games I had said was our goal before the season. That would be a vast improvement. More than twice the number that we won last year. We need to go 7-5 to get there.

“I know the guys don’t care about winning 35. They’re not marking it as their own goal. They just feel better about winning.

That’s a pretty pathetic aspiration – and the Knicks still didn’t meet it. They finished 32-50.

Jackson can say the players didn’t care about 35 wins, and they probably didn’t. It’s hard to see Carmelo Anthony appreciating aiming so low (though he might not resent it enough, which is anther issue).

But part of Jackson’s job is setting a tone for the organization. If he’s shooting for merely nearing mediocrity, that trickles down.

Jackson said entering the season he changed the Knicks’ culture. I’m not nearly as convinced.

51Q: Will returning home to Atlanta rejuvenate Dwight Howard?

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets waits on the court before the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Toyota Center on November 27, 2013 in Houston, 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Will returning home to Atlanta rejuvenate Dwight Howard?

It’s hard to remember an NBA star whose perception has changed as much in five years as Dwight Howard’s has. He hasn’t really helped matters — his messy exits from the Magic and Lakers, as well as his rumored feud with James Harden in Houston and declining production due to injuries have clearly lowered his standing. It’s easy to forget that five years ago, he was a three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, legitimate MVP candidate and had recently been the best player on a team that went to the Finals.

As insane as it is to think about, the three-year deal Howard signed with his hometown Atlanta Hawks this summer is something of a reclamation project for a once-perennial All-NBA player. And the Hawks may be the perfect situation for him to rehabilitate his career.

From a pure talent standpoint, Howard in 2016 is a downgrade from Al Horford, who left Atlanta for Boston in free agency. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer’s system is predicated on spacing, and Howard offensively is useless from outside five feet. But he does undeniably fill holes. Last season, the Hawks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, with the third-lowest rebound rate, per NBA.com. Rebounding is one of the things that Howard can still do consistently at an elite level.

Howard also brings enormous value as a pick-and-roll finisher, when he wants to accept that role. In Los Angeles and Houston, he was still under the impression that his best use was as a post-up big, likely in large part due to Shaquille O’Neal’s nonstop criticisms of his game on Inside the NBA.

If Howard is willing to play the pick-and-roll and doesn’t demand touches, he can still be an impact player in Atlanta. The hope would be that after leaving three teams on bad terms, Howard accepts that at this point in his career, he isn’t a first option on offense anymore, and he’s willing to play a role similar to what Tyson Chandler was on the Mavericks’ 2011 title team: a rebounder and rim protector who feasts offensively on putback dunks and scores in the pick and roll.

If Howard can do that, the Hawks have enough talent to stay in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference despite losing Horford. They have other question marks on their roster — they still haven’t found a full-time replacement for DeMarre Carroll, and the transition from the just-traded Jeff Teague to Dennis Schroder is going to be rocky.

But they have the pieces, the coach and the culture for Howard to be successful in Atlanta if he wants to be.

Little kid in silly green hat eliminates Avery Bradley in knockout (video)

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, left, gestures as Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) steps on the court in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacrament Kings, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Boston. The Celtics won 128-119. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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Tired of NBA players dominating kids during the summer?

Here’s the video for you.

Celtics guard Avery Bradley loses in knockout – thanks to the smallest kid in the clip, who’s wearing a shirt way to big for him and a silly green hat.

Brian Robb of Celtics Hub:

Children in NBA player camps everywhere, you have been avenged.

Marc Gasol says he nearly played in Olympics, his foot seems fine

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 24:  Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates against the Oklahoma City Thunder during  Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 24, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee. 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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Marc Gasol missed the final two months of last season and Olympics with a foot injury.

When will the Grizzlies center return?

Gasol in L’Esportiu, as translated by Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype:

On his foot injury:

“I’m really well and looking forward to starting (the season). I miss the competition, playing and enjoying basketball. All indications are that the foot is fine. I’ve practiced with the (Girona basketball club) juniors all I could, especially half-court sets.”

On almost making it to the Olympic Games:

“I was a couple of weeks away.”

After hurting his foot, it always seemed highly improbably Gasol would play in the Rio Games. But maybe he wasn’t that far off.

It’d be a huge boost to Memphis if Gasol is healthy as he sounds. The Grizzlies kept their window for winning open by re-signing Mike Conley and signing Chandler Parsons this summer, but Gasol is central to that. If healthy, Gasol is in the running for the NBA’s best center.  Memphis went 30-22 with him and 12-18 without him last season (though other injuries contributed to the downfall).