David Stern defends Dwight Howard’s right to leave Orlando

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NBA commissioner David Stern held his annual All-Star weekend press conference from the Amway Center in Orlando on Saturday, and not surprisingly, one of the first questions that came up was about Dwight Howard.

Howard, as you may have heard, is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, and he’s gone back and forth on whether or not he wants to stay. Most signs seem to indicate he is, at minimum, open to being courted by other teams around the league when the time comes.

So the question was, should teams in the Magic’s situation — facing the possibility of Howard leaving without getting anywhere near equal value in return — be entitled to any compensation from the league for losing its marquee star?

“Why should we,” Stern playfully jabbed, as he’s known to do in these group interview situations. He then gave a more serious response.

“Well, you have a choice,” he said. “We have a system that has a draft that basically tells a player where he’s going to play in this league when he’s drafted, and a further system that has a huge advantage to the team that has him, so that our players could play for seven years in the team they didn’t choose. And we think that’s a system but not a prison. And the idea for the team is to manage to a certain place, make it as easy as possible to retain the player, or have the ability to pay him considerably more, like $30 million more than any other team can pay him, or trade him and turn that into value.”

This is Stern merely affirming what is his, and therefore league’s position on free agency that he’s repeated when similar situations (see: Anthony, Carmelo) have arisen in recent years.

The league is fine with the system that’s in place for teams to attract new free agents, or retain their own. The $30 million figure he mentioned is the amount under the current collective bargaining agreement that the Magic can pay Howard in a new deal above and beyond anything he could receive from a team he chose to flee for in free agency.

And even if a big-time superstar does choose to leave, as LeBron James did when he bolted Cleveland for Miami, the system can still work — through a team’s ability to rebuild by acquiring new young talent through the draft.

“It’s beautiful,” Stern said of Cleveland’s burgeoning resurgence, courtesy of the stellar play of rookie (and number one overall draft pick Kyrie Irving.  “It’s part of the rite of renewal. It’s what happens. You make decisions. You know, Carmelo was traded by Denver; Deron Williams was traded by Utah; the Cavs went a different way. And for that they got two first‑round draft picks and they’ve got themselves a competitive young team that’s looking better … And that’s the ecosystem that is the NBA.”

To put it bluntly, Stern doesn’t feel sorry for the Orlando Magic. Howard has put in his time with that organization, so if his choice is to go play somewhere else after this season, then the league supports that decision — just as it has with many other greats who have done so in the past.

“I’m old enough to remember Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul‑Jabbar and assorted others who desired to go someplace else,” Stern said. “But I’m sure Dwight will make a good and wise decision — for him.”

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.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.