Does Dwight Howard already have one eye on the door?

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This is where we are now.

When a player is a couple years away from free agency — as Dwight Howard is in 2012 — there will be stories about how if the team doesn’t win a title he is gone. The stories have started about Chris Paul as well, all in the wake of what LeBron James has done and Carmelo Anthony is doing.

But we’re talking about Howard and the Magic now, and Ken Berger at CBSSports reports he’s glancing toward the door.

Howard evidently is willing to be patient. A free agent in 2012 along with the Hornets’ Chris Paul, Howard has yet to form a strong opinion one way or the other, according to a person with knowledge of his thinking. Stay or go? To paraphrase LeBron, what should he do? If he does leave, Howard has his eyes on two teams — the Lakers and Knicks — as the big-market destinations where he’ll chase down his championships and marketing opportunities if things don’t work out in the Sunshine State. The Nets, who are supposed to be in Brooklyn by then, also are in the mix, the person said.

Not the Howard to the Lakers rumors again. Please. We’ve discussed this before — the Lakers are locked into long-term deals (including center Andrew Bynum) for long past that date and if you think the Lakers want to break up a roster that has won two titles in a row, well, you probably thought Christina Aguilera did a great job on the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. (I’m not sure what was worse, the flub of the words or just the rendition itself.)

Might he leave in two years? Sure. Maybe. But he may find — as Carmelo Anthony is finding now — that getting to those places where you think the wins and marketing money flows like milk and honey is a lot harder than it looks. And it could cost you money.

Meanwhile, you’re with a franchise that has worked very hard to put a quality team around you. This is not LeBron in Cleveland, this is a much better roster over the years with Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu and Brandon Bass and so on and so on. You’re in a new building. You’re a national figure with plenty of marketing opportunities.

Which is to say, the grass is not always greener. Fortunately, we have some time for Howard to really think about this.

Kobe Bryant says LeBron James has earned the right to take a rest (VIDEO)

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Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a pretty consistent player in the NBA. Save for his final injury-laden seasons and the lockout year of 2011-12, Bryant played in no fewer than 65 regular season games in a single season.

Coaches also had no reason or want to ask Bryant — a notorious worker — to sit out in order to rest. That wasn’t really on the menu, and Bryant knew that.

Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Bryant said no coach really asked him to ever take a rest, “I’ve never been approached by a coach and asked to rest.”

Bryant remarked that he took queues from Michael Jordan during tough stretches of the season — back-to-backs or four games in five night scenarios — where he could switch his game up, floating from perimeter to post, in order to save energy during those matchups.

Bryant also said during the same interview that he understands the complexity of the modern game, and that players like LeBron James deserve to take a rest if they’ve earned it.

“LeBron has done so much for the game. He’s earned the opportunity to take a rest,” said Bryant.

The debate on this subject will continue, it seems.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.