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.

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.