Kobe Bryant Dwight Howard

The implications of rumors regarding the disintegration of Dwight Howard’s interest in the Lakers by the top dog Kobe Bryant

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OK, I’m going to tell you a story, and at the end of it, we’re going to try and make heads or tails out of what’s actually going on. Because it in no way can be what is reportedly going on because if it is, then Metta World Peace is no longer the craziest individual on the Lakers.

Let’s start here.

So for the last few months, the Nets have been considered the prohibitive favorite to land Dwight Howard, according to some sources. While a few have held out for what seems to be the more likely scenario involving the Lakers, as L.A. has players of actual value to trade, there has been a cacophony saying the Nets hold all the cards. But for many, the Lakers, who typically, you know, get who they want, are going to be considered a major player to the end. But then a few things happened.

It started innocently enough, with Larry Coon for ESPN.com burying the lede on something that seems fairly significant.

But the biggest impediment to a Lakers deal isn’t related to the trade rules — it’s overcoming the resistance on the part of both teams. Magic owner Rick DeVos has been reluctant to allow his team to lose a second franchise center to the Lakers (after Shaquille O’Neal in 1996), and the Lakers don’t want to pay such a steep price for what could amount to less than a season of Howard’s services. A source close to the negotiations says Howard’s representatives warned the Lakers that Howard would opt out of his contract and test the free-agent market next summer — which has the Lakers’ brass understandably nervous.

via Playing out the Dwight Howard scenarios – ESPN.

Huh. Alright. So that would mean that a major player, looking for a warm-weather big market with opportunities for a player who loves the camera more than anything outside of his momma has notified the Los Angeles Lakers that he would choose to test free agency despite every inherent advantage granted to the Lakers in terms of money and years for Howard. Seems odd. Coon’s not exactly a major news breaker, but that almost lends credibility here; he’s not going to throw out something like this if it doesn’t have legs, and his reputation as a shrewd evaluator of league mechanics is impeccable.

But that’s not where this story ends.

HoopsWorld followed up.

The Lakers have already been informed that Howard won’t sign a long-term deal in Los Angeles, according to sources close to the situation. If the Lakers were to trade for Howard, he would opt out and test free agency. Howard’s interest in Los Angeles has always been overstated, mainly because he doesn’t want to follow in Shaquille O’Neal’s footsteps and he doesn’t want to go through another rebuilding process anytime soon. With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in their thirties, Howard would be reaching his prime just as his All-Star teammates were declining.

via NBA PM: Howard Forcing His Way to Nets? | HOOPSWORLD | Basketball News & NBA Rumors.

Now that’s a bit stronger. We’ve evolved from “Howard won’t sign an extension” which we’ll get to in a minute, to “Howard doesn’t want to deal with the Lakers’ rebuild process after Kobe and Pau’s decline. That’s a significant jump there, for a lot of reasons.

Now’s where the nutso part comes in.

HoopsWorld followed up with this:

Source close to Dwight Howard on why he’s leaning away from the Los Angeles Lakers: “Kobe messed it up. That’s all I can say for now.”Sat Feb 04 05:11:40 via Twitter for BlackBerry®


Wait, what?

And as we spiral further and further from mainstream sources and the inherent power of credibility that comes with said mainstream standing, we reach RealGM.com.

While the Lakers were easily the team Howard thought about most in the summer, his desire to play for the Lakers changed after a conversation with Kobe Bryant, a source said.

Howard envisioned going to the Lakers and forming a devastating one-two punch with Bryant. But Bryant had other plans for how Howard would be incorporated into the Lakers.

Bryant told Howard that he wanted him to come to Los Angeles and help him win two more championships, but not as an understudy. He wanted Howard to be the team’s third option behind himself and Pau Gasol, according to a source. Bryant tried to sell Howard on being his “Tyson Chandler” and made it clear that Los Angeles would be his, but only once Bryant decided he was done playing.

via Lakers Slip In Pursuit Of Dwight Howard – RealGM Wiretap.

I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.

Now, I’m going to level with you. A rumor about a conversation that Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard reportedly had in which Bryant told the reigning DPOY and MVP candidate best center in the league that he would be a third-option “Tyson Chandler” is not exactly breaking hard news. There’s no way to verify the accuracy of this account even if Howard does wind up on the Nets.

But we’ve got a weird pattern, here.

The Coon article on ESPN. The follow-up. And the follow-up to the follow-up.

So what are we looking at here? We’re never going to know, but we can theorize.

Some possibilities.
1.  The truth. The Lakers have blown their shot at Howard, he does want the Nets, Kobe did grate on Howard and tell him he was going to be a third-wheel, effectively killing the franchise’s best shot at a future beyond his tenure and putting his ability to win a sixth ring in jeopardy. After all, the Knick needed 25 points and 7 assists from Jeremy Lin to beat the Nets, Chris Paul is a Clipper, Lamar Odom is a Maverick, the Cavaliers are a fringe playoff team and Tom Thibodeau played Luol Deng 41 minutes in a blowout win over Milwaukee in his first game back from a wrist injury. So why not throw one more crazy-ass thing on the fire?

2. Subterfuge. Is it certain that all three individuals received their info from the same source? No. Is it possible? Yes. And if so, there’s likely an agenda behind it. It would behoove the Magic to chill Lakers talk in part to get questions about L.A. to simmer down. The Nets clearly would want to create a perception of stress between the two parties because if they don’t get Howard, they’re going back to the basketball equivalent of the stone age. It would in no way mean that those reporting this story are off, simply that the story being spun is directed by agenda and not, you know, open dialogue. This isn’t anything shocking. But given the names of those involved you have to think they thought this through somewhat before going with it.

3. A misunderstanding. There’s a level of  interpretation involved here and it’s important. Coon notes in his article the particulars of the new CBA and its effect on Howard’s situation. In short, an extend-and-trade, a sign-and-trade, and a trade-and-extend all limit the amount of money Howard can gain in free agency. The most money, and best situation for him is to go where he wants, then opt-out, then re-sign at the max for five years. That gets him the most money, strongest raise platform, and and most stability of any option. Basically him opting out of his last year and into free agency with the Lakers is less an indictment on where they stand as a franchise and more as a product of how the CBA is structured. The jump from that piece of information to “Dwight doesn’t want to play in L.A.” is a short one.

You’d probably like this if I informed you the answer to this riddle. But I don’t know. And you don’t know. And a lot of reporters don’t know. A lot of people have sources, a lot of people are talking, and Howard’s still in Orlando. But this latest series of information means that things are only going to get crazier in the next month and a half.

Jimmy Butler’s ascent continues into superstardom

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls signals to his teammates against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler was in Milwaukee and hundreds of miles from his home of Tomball, Texas. He was trying to fit in with his new Marquette teammates, most of whom he had never met before. He had to change his playing style as he transitioned up a level.

And then it snowed.

“Unbelievable to me,” Butler said. “I don’t know if I was happy or pissed off that it was snowing. I had never seen snow before. I was incredibly cold.

“That was the biggest culture shock of everything. It was hard. But we got through it. We always do.”

He always does.

The Bulls wing called going from junior college to the Big East the most difficult step in his basketball journey. What he’s doing this year, it’s not easy. But Butler has overcome numerous other challenges.

A rough childhood, getting overlooked in recruiting, rising from junior college to top-shelf college basketball, climbing draft boards as a relatively unheralded prospect, carving out a role in the NBA, working his way into stardom.

Now, Butler – the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2015 – is pushing himself into the NBA’s elite. He’s averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game. He ranks third in real plus-minus, sixth in PER and fourth in win shares.

MVP? Another MIP?

Butler dismisses the “individual s—” with a grimace, but he’s taking to his elevated stature.

“I figured, ‘Why can’t I be up there with the best of them?'” Butler said. “And I continue to think that way.”

Butler didn’t always carry such confidence, and he doesn’t have to think far back to remember the days he lacked it. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews, Lazar Hayward, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder overshadowed him at Marquette. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer once dwarfed his presence on the Bulls.

“I wasn’t always a really good player,” Butler said. “I just worked harder than everybody. I just played harder than everybody.”

Butler developed his skills. He gained fame and fortune.

He just never lost his work ethic.

As he continue to practice and study, he learned how far that could take him. Butler has made the last two All-Star games and last three All-Defensive second teams. Now, he’s recognizing his own potential.

“Your confidence comes from your work,” Butler said.

That confidence is spreading.

Say whatever you want about how he has handled his rise into stardom, Butler continues to rise. He deserves more credit for his jump from star to superstar, maybe one of the most difficult leaps in sports. But his continued evolution has warped expectations.

Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade first noticed Butler at Marquette, their shared alma mater. Could Wade envision then Butler turning into an NBA player?

“That was hard to see,” Wade said.

What about once Butler got into the league? Did his star potential show?

“No, didn’t see that,” Wade said.

Then Butler’s leap to superstardom surely must have also caught Wade off guard, right?

“I won’t say surprise,” Wade said. “He’s playing with the talent he has.

“He’s not doing nothing overcomplicated. He’s not crossing people, making them fall. He’s not jumping over tall people. He’s playing his game. He’s getting to the basket, hitting the mid-range pullup, doing things like that.”

Unfortunately for Butler’s MVP chances, he’s doing it in a year so many other players are posting unworldly numbers. His combination of 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game have been matched over a full season just 56 times in the NBA’s 70-year history. Do that in the right year – especially with Butler’s efficiency: shooting 47.2% from the field, 35.1% on 3-pointers and 88.9% on free throws – and Butler walks away with MVP.

But this season, four players – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Butler – are on pace to hit that combination scoring/rebounding/passing combination, which would be a record. To win MVP, Butler must fend off those other three and Chris Paul and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James and…

Still, Butler has a more realistic chance of making history given his humble entry into the NBA. The No. 30 pick in the 2011 draft, he could o become the highest finisher in MVP voting in his lifetime who was drafted so low. The current bar is seventh in MVP voting, done by both No. 35 pick Draymond Green and undrafted Ben Wallace.

Butler could also break records with his sustained improvement.

Several Most Improved Players – Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love, Monta Ellis,* Bobby Simmons, Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Rony Seikaly – received votes for the award after winning it. But none seriously contended for a repeat. The closest was 1990 winner Seikaly, who finished 12th in 1997 – with a single vote.

*Ellis received is the only player to receive MIP votes in multiple seasons after winning it. He won the award in 2007 and then made his way onto the ballot in 2008 and 2010.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as a strong frontrunner for 2017 Most Improved player, but Butler belongs in the mix.

To cherry-pick one measure among the many that showcases Butler’s improvement, his PER has risen from 21.3 each of the last two season to 27.8 this year. Only Terry Rozier and Giannis Antetokounmpo have made bigger jumps from their previous career-high PER to a new career high this season (minimum: 200 minutes each season):

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Butler’s ascension has invited greater leadership responsibilities, an area that drew immense scrutiny last season.

Chicago traded Rose and watched Noah walk over the summer. Newcomers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo declared the Bulls to be Butler’s team.

The pressure was on, and Butler appears to be delivering.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, who drew public criticism from Butler last year, called him a “great leader.” Butler again asked Hoiberg to coach him harder before this season, and his teammates have noticed.

“Is he hard on himself? Is he hard on guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to? Yes. He’s supposed to be hard on them,” Wade said. “But I think he’s as advertised.”

That’s because Butler continues to show his genuineness.

“He has a little different personality,” Wade said. “You come in, and everybody talk about it. He’s in the locker room singing country music and all these songs that most people ain’t used to listening to.”

That’s Butler from Tomball, Texas.

He’s now on an effectively max contract, in commercials and headed toward an even higher level of stardom on the court.

Yet, he remains relentless in his approach.

“I’m about right now,” Butler said. “Every single day, what can I do right now to get better for tomorrow – and that’s not even promised. What can I do right now to finish out the day right?”

Did Draymond Green hit Blake Griffin in the nuts? (video)

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Stephen Curry nutmegged DeAndre Jordan in the Warriors’ win over the Clippers last night.

Did Draymond Green do something similar to Blake Griffin – except with his hand rather than the ball and connecting rather than going between Griffin’s legs?

At first glance, that swipe at the ball didn’t look so sinister.

But then you watch Griffin’s reaction.

And you read about Griffin’s response. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

And you consider Green’s reputation.

Really, that’s why we’re addressing this. With another player, it probably gets glossed over. But Green long ago lost the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever happened on that play, Green frustrated Griffin all night. Green had 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and two steals and helped hold Griffin to 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting with seven turnovers and four fouls.

Griffin had this nice dunk over Green, featuring some hands to the face:

Otherwise, Griffin was left with a loss and Green’s parting shot.

Report: Rockets will leave Donatas Motiejunas’ offer sheet open

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets and Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets fight for the loose ball at the Barclays Center on January 12, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.The Houston Rockets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 113-99. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Donatas Motiejunas’ agent, B.J. Armstrong, said he knows their rights.

Apparently, so does Houston.

Motiejunas has refused to take a physical with the Rockets since they matched his offer sheet from the Nets. So, Houston will hold him on that offer sheet indefinitely.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Motiejunas can’t sign an offer sheet with another NBA team. He probably can’t even join an overseas team in a FIBA-accredited league, because his NBA holdout will prevent him from getting clearance.

All he can do is submit to a physical or negotiate a new deal with the Rockets.

Motiejunas could undergo a physical anytime between now and March 1. If he passes, he’d join Houston on the terms of his matched offer sheet. If he fails, he’d go to Brooklyn on the original offer-sheet terms (which are $6 million apart).

Motiejunas could also negotiate a new deal with the Rockets. They have immense leverage with his matched offer sheet in place, but perhaps a compromise could be forged. Motiejunas obviously wants a chance at that $6 million, but he’ll have to concede something in exchange. Maybe that’s a later guarantee date on his 2017-18 salary. If both sides agree to a different contract, Houston would withdraw its match, which would make Motiejunas a restricted free agent. Then, the Rockets could re-sign him.

They sure aren’t letting him out of this limbo just to seek a better offer sheet from another team. A new contract must already be agreed upon.

In the meantime, Motiejunas will continue to count toward the Nets’ team salary while the offer sheet is open, which is a nuisance but not hugely disruptive. They have plenty of cap space anyway, and the odds of adding significant salary in a trade are low.

Houston will continue to play without Motiejunas. That’s also not ideal for the Rockets, but they’ve been fine without him so far.

The qualifying offer will expire on March 2, when Motiejunas will no longer be eligible to sign an offer sheet with another team. He’d still be allowed to re-sign with Houston, though. Failing that, he’ll re-enter free agency next summer, when the Rockets could again make him restricted, and we’ll start the process all over again – with the caveat that the Nets can’t sign him for one year after his offer sheet expires.

Maybe something will break before it gets to that point, but Houston and Motiejunas have trudged deeper into this standoff than ever imaginable.

Stephen Curry skips pass between DeAndre Jordan’s legs, gets Zaza Pachulia a layup (video)

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Nicolas Batum wasn’t the only player to bounce a pass through an opponent’s legs last night.

Stephen Curry nutmegged DeAndre Jordan on this sweet assist to Zaza Pachulia.