Dwight Howard is saying all the right things, which is not good for Orlando


Free agency and the years prior to it will never be the same after “The Decision.”  We heard LeBron James say all the right things. “I love Cleveland.” “I love our fans.” “I would love to win a championship here.” But what was missing was James ever giving the words that would bind him to Cleveland. He said almost everything. But he never said the words which would lock him publicly to Cleveland. And that’s the formula. You heard it from Dwyane Wade, you’ve heard it from Carmelo Anthony, and you’re hearing it now from Dwight Howard, with his free agency a full year and a half away.

From an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein this weekend:

Stein: When you walk around town, do people ever ask you if you’re going to leave town someday like Shaq did? How often do people ask those kinds of questions? Can you feel that people in Orlando are worried about history repeating itself?

Howard: I want to win a championship. And I’m going to do whatever I can to win the championship here in Orlando. This is where I started my career and I would love to finish my career here.

via Weekend Dime: Howard Q&A – ESPN.

So Howard gave the positive words you want to hear as a Magic fan without telling you “Yes, I will re-sign here” or even “I intend to re-sign here but if we don’t win a championship I’m gone.” Just saying what he’s supposed to say via his agent, and not saying what he would need to say to end the questions. He has the ability to end the questions that apparently he doesn’t like. But he won’t. Because this is the new reality.

And here is where we depart from the linear narrative.

There is a question here of responsibility.

The constant refrain is “I want to win a championship.” Every player is heeding the words of Kevin Garnett, who feels he wasted his time in Minnesota on losing teams. Never mind the legions of fans in Minnesota who supported him and desperately need him to win a championship there versus the Boston Celtics who needed to throw another trophy in the gigantic trophy room they swim in like Scrooge McDuck.  Garnett felt that he wasted his best years not contending, and now all players are trying to accomplish multiple titles in their prime, not when they’re aging veterans. And so this new crop pursues it, without ever considering the responsibility for championships rests not only on the teams who employ them, but on everyone else.

It’s ego. Ego that drives players to believe that no matter what, no matter how many free throws they miss, the blame for failing to win a championship should fall on all other members of the organization and not themselves. Ego that causes them to overlook and shrug off the responsibility that comes with being a franchise player, being the player teams build around, being the player teams depend on. Instead they listen to agents and handlers tell them that a shrinking field goal percentage and a modified jumper is enough, that it’s the failure of the team to construct a good enough supporting cast. This, despite the enormous amount of luck it takes to win a championship, never mind the complexity of obtaining truly great talent by a contending team. Instead, they simply look at what Paul Pierce has had handed to him (after nearly a decade of struggle as the only real star), what Kobe Bryant was granted (despite the ridiculous circumstances that landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles), and decide that’s what they want.

It’s fine to want help. Fine to feel that your supporting cast is not worthy of you. LeBron James’ next best player was Mo Williams, for crying out loud. Danny Ferry was mercifully released before the circus popped its tent up, and so was spared the agony of public exhumation of his moves, which included trades for Ben Wallace, Wally Sczerbiak, Williams, and Antawn Jamison among the list of attempts toward truly great team composition. But Howard? Howard has no such excuse. Gilbert Arenas is not what he once was, but is still a good player, especially on the Magic, and is their sixth man. Jason Richardson was acquired. Brandon Bass brought in. Hedo Turkoglu. Marcin Gortat was re-signed to provide help so Howard wasn’t the only real center on the roster (as he is now). The Magic have made good faith efforts to win a championship, and those efforts brought them as close as you can get without winning as the Eastern Conference Finals.  But there are more factors in play here. Health, like that of Jameer Nelson or Kevin Garnett in 2009. Matchups, team chemistry, when teams get hot or get cold, over-confidence, the list goes on and on.  Should the Magic fail to win a championship in the next two seasons (provided there is a second season), the responsibility will ultimately be Otis Smith’s and Stan Van Gundy’s. But it will also be Howard’s. He is the one they have built around, the one who they consider the talents of with every personnel move we make.

It’s up to Dwight Howard to win a championship. Not solely him. The burden is not all his. But to shrug off the responsibility and make the excuse that a title is why you would skip town for a bigger market, burning Orlando for the second time in recent history at the same position in the same manner, possibly to the same city, that’s not what a team leader does. Some guys get it. Kevin Durant seems to. Derrick Rose seems to. Many players seem to. But Howard? He’s learned from those in the class above him. Watched them make their play to have their cake and eat it, too.

And given the history of the league, it’s fair to suggest the best way to win a title is to play in Los Angeles or Boston. But at the end of the day, these players still have a responsibility to the team that’s drafted them, has put these players on the pedestal, paid those players and trusted them to win the franchise a title. All the other parts are in place to help that player win a title. That’s the burden. Maybe Howard will realize that and sign an extension. But the modern approach is not to take responsibility for the franchise of which you are the franchise player. It’s to smile, say the right things, and demand championships on your way out of town.

Otis Smith isn’t just fighting 29 other teams. He’s fighting 29 teams and one team of agents and handlers.

The modern NBA management battlefield, and after such battles? Sometimes the battlefield is left barren, bleak, and depressing.

Just ask Minnesota.

Just ask Cleveland.


Through unpredictable season for Spurs, Popovich remains steady

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Gregg Popovich is not changing how he coaches, not after 22 seasons leading the Spurs.

The NBA’s most tenured steward is always going to focus on defense. He’s always going to dismiss talk of his brilliance because “it’s just basketball.” And he’s not going to overwork his players even though an unprecedented rash of injuries has the Spurs battling for their playoff lives for the first time in two decades.

“At this point, he’s not changing,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s a formula that has worked quite well. They have great veteran leadership and they pass it along to the young guys. You see the young guys are growing. That’s why they’re so good.”

They’re not as good as they have been, but their impressive success this year is a testament to Popovich.

San Antonio has been without MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard for all but nine games this season and Tony Parker, Rudy Gay and Danny Green have all missed significant time with various injuries. In all, the Spurs have missed 165 games as a team while battling everything from sprained MCLs to fractured wrists.

The injuries haven’t dramatically altered how Popovich manages the 82-game regular season.

“I think Pop did a great job overall, it’s not easy,” Parker said. “It was a tough one for him this year. Since I’ve been here, we have never had that many injuries. So, Pop did the best he could and I think overall he did a good job.”

Aside from All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, no Spurs player is averaging more than 28 minutes per game and veterans Parker and Manu Ginobili are averaging 20 minutes per game. Popovich has also been able to sit Aldridge, Ginobili and Pau Gasol for rest during the season.

Popovich was among the first coaches to sit players for rest rather than injury. He opted to keep Duncan, Parker, Ginobili and Green at home rather than have them play at Miami on Nov. 30, 2012. The action resulted in a $250,000 fine and sharp rebuke from then NBA Commissioner David Stern. The NBA changed its rules to allow teams to rest its players, but only if they listed in a timely manner who would be resting on their injury reports.

Popovich doesn’t have the firepower to repeat that mass seating now.

“It was hard to rest guys, limit guys’ minutes,” Green said. “We had some guys come back from injuries, that’s when he limited some of the guys’ minutes.”

But Popovich still has made sure players received their needed rest.

The 40-year-old Ginobili has provided the Spurs with a needed lift this month after sitting out eight games to rest. In Wednesday’s victory over Washington, Ginobili outran 31-year-old Ramon Sessions to a loose ball and then dove on it to save the possession.

“It just tells you that nobody has an excuse not to do it,” 37-year-old center Pau Gasol said of Ginobili’s hustle. “A 40-year-old does it, what about a 25 or 30 or 35 or 37 year old?”

Parker has not sat out any games for rest, but he did miss the first 19 games of the season after recovering from left quadriceps tendon surgery. Even before he lost his starting position to Dejounte Murray, Parker has spent a lot of time on the bench. Not that Parker has enjoyed the time off the court.

“For me personally, I’m just trying to get back to 100 percent it was almost too much rest,” Parker said. “I wish I had played more games, but it is what it is. Other guys, I hope they feel fresher. We’re going to need it.”

While Parker may not enjoy the rest, it seems to be paying off.

The Spurs have won five straight after losing eight of 11 games to drop into 10th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. San Antonio was in sixth place, one-half game behind Oklahoma City.

The Spurs recently beat a short-handed Golden State team by 14 points. The Spurs played with energy that they haven’t shown since early in the season when they were third in the West.

That should help then down the stretch, and possibly into the playoffs. Being rested, healthy and playing good defense is a recipe that has yielded five championships in Popovich’s tenure and extended the careers of franchise stalwarts like Tim Duncan, Parker and Ginobili.

“Everybody’s bringing the juice,” Murray said. “We’re playing together on offense. I just feel like there’s more juice on defense. As I always say, defense, we’ve all got to be on the same page and be hungry and greedy on `D.’ We’ve got to keep going, we can’t get comfortable.”


Giannis Antetokounmpo to tell his story on 60 Minutes this week (preview clip)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo grew up hocking wares — clothes, sunglasses, whatever — on the streets of Athens, Greece. He easily could still be living there, the tallest salesman in a poor part of a country with high unemployment and real challenges.

Instead, he is a multimillionaire living comfortably in the United States, and is one of the 10 best basketball players in the world — and still improving. In a few years we may well be saying he is the best player on the planet.

Antetokounmpo will be telling his story on the legendary television news magazine 60 Minutes this week, and the show released a clip. Check it out.

This is the best missed free throw to game winner you will ever see

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We’ve all seen this situation before at every level of basketball: A team down three points gets fouled in the final seconds and has two free throws, so the shooter aims to make the first free throw then miss the second and create a rebound he or a teammate can grab then throw back in to tie the game. It works about as often as an NFL Hail Mary — either the shooter makes the shot anyway or the defense gets the board — but what other choice is there?

Nobody has ever pulled it off as well as Paulinho Boracini of the Brazilian league team Cearense.

Intentional or not (and I lean not), he banked the second free throw off the rim toward the corner, ran it down himself and hit the game-winning three.

Damn. That’s impressive.

(If Boracini and Cearense sound familiar, you win the award for “watching too much Knicks preseason basketball” because they played New York in a 2015 exhibition.)

Giannis Antetokounmpo doubtful with ankle injury for Bulls game

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MILWAUKEE (AP) The Milwaukee Bucks say Giannis Antetokounmpo is doubtful for Friday night’s game against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The All-Star forward got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.