Dwight Howard rumor storm begins: here is where we stand

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All-Star Weekend is in the rear view mirror, the NBA trade deadline is just more than two weeks away (March 15), so now the focus of the NBA world becomes this:

Where will Dwight Howard be playing March 16?

There are 8 million rumors out there in the naked city right now, here is where things stand as of today:

• The ball is in Magic’s court right now — until they decide they are going to trade (or not trade) Howard everything else is paused. Here is what the Orlando Sentinel reports on that front.

The Magic have said all along that they will speak to Howard at some point before or on March 1 to see what he plans to do when he can become a free agent this summer. The Magic then would assess their situation from there.

What the Magic will hear in that meeting is what they have heard all along from Howard and his representatives — he will not sign an extension in Orlando — reports Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated.

Sources with knowledge of Howard’s thinking say nothing has changed about his outlook. And while his wish-list of teams still includes the Nets, Lakers and Mavs, New Jersey is far and away the leader.

That said, the Magic are clearly undecided. It would not at all be surprising if they look at the trade options that start to flow in and decide to keep Howard anyway and take their chances this summer. This is not a team that wants to rebuild, and that’s an order from ownership.

• Why New Jersey? Because they are going to be Brooklyn soon and they have an elite point guard in Deron Williams, reports Amick.

Though it may pain the purists, it’s not just about basketball for Howard. He wants to take his brand global, to leverage the international influence of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov while building his brand as Brooklyn’s first star. His wandering eye is enticed not only by the Barclays Center that is set to open next season, but the businesses in the booming area around it that could afford many off-court opportunities.

• What about the Lakers? One of the big rumors All-Star Weekend in Orlando was Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to Los Angeles for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. That is not happening. First, the Lakers have said multiple times they would not trade both Bynum and Gasol in a deal for Howard (or anyone else). Second, there is this from the Orlando Sentinel.

Magic CEO Alex Martins told the Sentinel the rumor is wrong.

Howard has had conversations with Kobe Bryant but does not have Los Angeles at the top of his list. From Amick at Sports Illustrated:

He wants, as one source said, to “be Kobe Bryant, not be with Kobe Bryant.”

Part of that also stems out of the conversations Howard had with Kobe, one where Kobe reportedly said the Lakers would still be his team and at times Howard could be the third offensive option behind Bryant and Pau Gasol (Kobe has denied that is how the talk went). Whatever happened in that conversation, the Lakers are not Howard’s top choice and Lakers ownership is not happy, Amick reports.

The Buss family that owns the Lakers, in turn, is said to be irked by Bryant’s alleged role in the matter and hopeful that Howard — who they see as the business and basketball draw for the next decade — can still be convinced otherwise. But Howard’s focus, one source close to him insists, was on the Nets regardless of Bryant’s perceived influence.

• What about Dallas? Howard wants to play with Deron Williams, and Williams has made noises he would like to return to his hometown of Dallas and play when he becomes a free agent this summer. From the New York Daily News.

“I always like playing (Dallas),” Williams said. “It’s my favorite arena – one of my favorite arenas to play in – probably my favorite to play in. I just enjoy playing here – enjoy playing in front of my friends, family. It’s always good to get the chance to come and see me play.”

If Howard is coming to New Jersey, Williams likely stays. He has said multiple times he really enjoys living in New York.

But as Adrian Wojnarowski said on NBC’s SportsTalk, watch the Shawn Marion situation — if Dallas can find a taker for his $8 million deal next season, they would have the money to offer max deals to both Howard and Williams to play with Dirk Nowtizki. Don’t put it past Mark Cuban to pull that off.

But that is the summer. Right now, the fate of Dwight Howard really rests with what the Magic decide to do in the next couple of weeks.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.