Orlando Magic v New York Knicks

Magic CEO says it’s not Howard, it’s us that wanted Van Gundy out

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Orlando Magic CEO Tony Martins tried to lay down a full field of cover for Dwight Howard on the day the Magic sent coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith packing.

He essentially went with the “it’s not you, it’s me” line that always works so well when you tried to break off a relationship. But goal number one was to say it was not Howard.

“Let me say in no uncertain terms that Dwight did not want to be part of this decision,” Martins said at a televised press conference announcing the firings. “He did not want to make this decision. He never asked me to make this decision. Yes, (the Howard/Van Gundy) relationship was a challenge, but Dwight Howard never asked me to fire Stan Van Gundy.”

I could get into how requests like “fire the coach or I’m gone” are never communicated directly but rather through back channels in the NBA. But really, it comes down to this: Do you think the Magic fired Van Gundy to keep their chances to re-sign Howard alive? Damn straight they did. They didn’t do it because they are going to go bring in a coach who is going to push this roster to a better record. That guy is not out there.

Is that going to be enough to keep Howard is another question. Who gets hired as coach and if the new GM can pull a rabbit out of his hat with a move that improves the roster will matter. Here is what Marc Stein of ESPN reports:

The changes alone don’t guarantee that Howard will stay, according to sources familiar with his thinking, but the prospect of Orlando hiring a proven team-builder like Donnie Walsh to mentor Adonal Foyle — and then going out and getting a coach who can try to build a better bond with Howard than Van Gundy had — at least gives Orlando some fresh hope.

Ditto for the fact that Howard, as some rival executives believe, might be more interested in nailing down some long-term security after season-ending back surgery that represents the first major injury of his career.

Martins essentially went on to say that relationship building will be key for the next Magic coach.

“Stan prepared our team as good as any coach I have ever been around in 25 years in the business. However, I also think there is another side to coaching.

“Did a lot of people get in disagreements over the course of the last five years about style? Sure. That’s what happens in this business. But the most important part is we felt strategically he was outstanding but we were looking for more out of our head coach and our basketball operations the last two years.”

It will be interesting to see who the Magic can really get. Would a veteran coach like Nate McMillan go there knowing he could be in the middle of a major rebuilding project based on Howard’s whim? Would a team executive like Walsh go if he felt the Howard situation could blow up in his face?

Martins said it was time for Howard to commit to the Magic. But it’s not that simple.

The fact is that the Magic are in trouble here — the way the new CBA is set up it is financially beneficial for Howard to become a free agent then re-sign a max deal with the Magic then to just extend his current contract (he gets an extra year). So even if Howard says he will stay he will be a free agent and can always change his mind. It would smash his already badly injured public reputation, but he could.

The Magic have let one of the best coaches in the league go. But if the hire they make gets Dwight Howard to stay it was the right move. If not… enjoy the rebuilding process.

Mavericks waive Deron Williams, he’s expected to sign in Cleveland as free agent

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks brings the ball down the floor against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on December 1, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Hey LeBron James, here’s your backup point guard.

The Cavaliers cleared out a roster spot a couple of weeks ago letting Chris Andersen go, that was all about creating a space for a quality player waived by another team to come in.

How about Deron Williams? The Dallas Mavericks waived him just after the deadline passed on Thursday, the team announced.

Multiple reports say that once he clears waivers, he plans to sign with the Cavaliers.

It makes sense, Williams gets to contend for a title and will make a lot of playoff money with the run the Cavaliers make to the Finals (more than $300,000 if they get that far).

At age 32, Williams has accepted a smaller role and evolved from elite into a solid NBA point guard, averaging 13.1 points and 6.8 assists per game this season and shooting 34.8 percent from three. He’s more a floor general than a dynamic scorer anymore, and he’s not a great defender, but he will be perfect in the 15-20 minutes a night he has to play with Kyrie Irving resting.

Cleveland also is expected to make a run at landing Andrew Bogut, who the Sixers will waive in the coming day.

Celtics, Nuggets, others make runs but Paul George still a Pacer. For now.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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During the All-Star weekend in New Orleans, an at times frustrated Paul George sat down with the Pacers ownership and front office and told them, in so many words, “I want to be a Pacer for life, but only if we can build a team that can contend for a title.”

Fans from Los Angeles to Boston only seemed to hear the second part of that, then when the trade rumors started to fly people were convinced he was on the move.

The Pacers focused on the first part of that sentence. Which is why he’s still a Pacer tonight.

Indiana went out and kicked the tires on deals, talking to a lot of teams. We know Boston came hard because this was the first time they have put one of their prized Brooklyn picks the next two seasons on the table.

The Hawks were trying.

Denver wants to make a run at the big time — remember they came hard at Dwyane Wade last summer — and they made a run at George.

Although, this would have gotten Denver to back off.

Those teams were not alone, but in the end, the Pacers passed on all of it.

Why? Because they heard the first part of that sentence above — they love Paul George and want him to be their cornerstone. They listened to offers, not nothing rose to the Godfather offer level it was going to have to for the Pacers to deal away their star and start a massive rebuilding project around Myles Turner.

That said, this conversation is not over.

Only two things will keep Paul George in Indiana past his free agency of 2018 (and if he leaves then his hometown Lakers are seen as a clear, runaway favorite). First, Larry Bird is able to build a contender around George in the next year. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

The other is that George makes an All-NBA team this season, if that happens, the Pacers can offer him the “designated player” larger contract, around $210 million over five years (and $30 million more than he could make anywhere else). George may have frustrations and issues in Indiana, but he’s not leaving that cash on the table.

If George is not an All-NBA player this year (he’s on the bubble, but likely just outside the list with the top six forwards), and if Bird cannot quickly construct a contender, then the Pacers have to revisit these trades and try to get something back for their star.

They just weren’t ready to go there on Thursday.

Rumor: J.J. Redick has also already committed to re-signing with Clippers

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) reacts after making a 3-point shot during the overtime period of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. The Clippers won 140-132 in overtime. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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The Clippers face a make-or-break offseason.

It seems they might have already handled their major business.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul have reportedly already agreed to re-sign. Now, it seems L.A.’s third major unrestricted free agent – J.J. Redick – might also be staying.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

there is a belief that Redick already has committed to re-sign in July. Like Griffin and Paul, Redick is viewed as a core piece, and while his $7.3 million price tag is likely going way up, there is a belief that Rivers and the Clippers are ready to pay it.

The capped-out Clippers will have no mechanism to adequately replace Redick if they re-sign Paul and Griffin. Exceeding the cap to re-sign Redick is the only feasible path to maintaining contender status – a must with Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in place.

If Redick agreed this early to re-sign, that suggests he’s not going to extract every penny he can from the Clippers or that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is willing to spend big. Redick really could have put the screws to the Clippers by playing hardball through free agency.

His leverage due simply to the Clippers’ cap situation would have been immense, but the rest of the league would have also provided a safety net. The 3-and-D skills that make Redick valuable to the Clippers would help any team.

All this said, Redick – and Paul and Griffin – can’t re-sign until July. No matter their intent today, there’s plenty of time for these deals to fall apart.

But the Clippers having assurances from all three to stay would be a big deal.

Report: Raptors acquire P.J. Tucker from Suns for Jared Sullinger, second round picks

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The Toronto Raptors went into the last few weeks in a slump on the court and with the need to improve at the forward slot if they had any dreams of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again.

Then the Raptors added Serge Ibaka.

Now they have added P.J. Tucker from the Suns to the mix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is a strong move for Toronto. Tucker is a physical guy who can play the three or the four, and he brings a strong defensive presence to the court — he is statistically one of the better defending small forwards in the league this season. He and DeMarre Carroll can give the Raptors a needed boost on that end, and Tucker is going to be great as a defensive matchup in certain playoff situations.

Toronto has made its move — first they hope to get back up to the two or three seed in the East (and avoid Cleveland in the second round). Then to make a stronger run at Cleveland in the conference finals — remember they took the Cavs six games last year.

What the Suns wanted was the picks. Sullinger is a solid player who can step into their rotation now, but is a downgrade — especially defensively — from Tucker. What the Suns start doing is looking for draft steals they can find in the second round.